Grooming: what is it?
Grooming is when a person prepares a child and their parents, carers and environment for sexual abuse. Grooming involves building a trusting relationship with a child or family over many weeks, months and years. This allows the person who is grooming to spend more and more time with the child. It lays the groundwork for sexual abuse later on.
All children have the right to grow up safe from abuse. Talking with children about grooming and protecting children from sexual abuse is part of creating safe environments that help children grow and thrive.
Signs that children and teenagers are being groomed
Many of the signs of grooming can look like normal adult‐child relationships, which is why grooming is difficult to spot. If something doesn’t feel right, it’s important to trust your instincts, watch for signs and keep an eye on your child’s behaviour.
The following signs might indicate that your child or the child you’re caring for is being groomed.
- talks a lot about a particular adult or older child, or wants to spend a lot of time with them or meet them alone
- is in a relationship with a much older person
- is skipping school or sporting activities
- is spending less time with friends or changes friendship groups suddenly
- spends more time alone in their room
- has unexplained gifts like new toys, clothes, jewellery or electronics and doesn’t want to talk about where the gifts came from
- doesn’t want to talk about what they’ve been doing or lies about it
- stops telling you about their day or asking for your advice.
Signs someone is grooming parents
Grooming often involves gaining the trust of a child’s family or carers to get time alone with a child. It can look like a close relationship with the child’s family, so it can be difficult to spot. If something doesn’t feel right, it’s important to trust your instincts and watch for signs.
The following signs might indicate that someone is grooming you or your family with the aim of sexually abusing your child or the child you’re caring for.
- oversteps your social boundaries – for example, they might show up to your child’s birthday party uninvited with a gift
- offers to take your child to sports or other activities, or offers to babysit or take your child camping
- offers to mentor your child, individually coach your child, and so on
- buys gifts for your family
- offers to do things for your family, like repairs or gardening
- shows an interest in your child’s activities, wellbeing, school grades or other areas of your child’s life
- compliments your family and parenting
- tries to start a flirtatious or romantic relationship with you.
Who might be involved in grooming?
Anyone can engage in grooming behaviour.
They can be people of all genders. They can include older children, relatives, family friends, strangers, professionals, people from a family’s place of worship, sporting coaches, early childhood educators and school teachers.
How and where does grooming happen?
Grooming can happen face to face or online.
If grooming is happening face to face, the person might find ways to get to know a child and the child’s family. They might offer to take the child on outings.
If grooming is happening online, the person might pretend to be a child of the same age or a celebrity. The person might use text, instant messaging, online chat and so on to build a relationship with the child.
Children and teenagers won’t or can’t always tell you that they’re experiencing sexual abuse. You might need to watch for signs of sexual abuse in your child’s behaviour and emotions instead.
What to do if you’re concerned that someone is grooming a child
Grooming isn’t always obvious. People engaging in grooming behaviour work hard to gain trust and respect from children and families. So it’s important to trust your instincts if something doesn’t feel right. It’s a good idea to keep your child or the child you’re caring for away from the person you’re concerned about until you find out more.
It’s also important to:
- Watch out for signs that you or your child is being groomed.
- Stop the person from being alone with your child.
- Avoid letting the person do favours for your family.
- Ask other families who know the person what their relationship with the person is like.
- Find out how your child feels about the person by asking questions like ‘Do you like the way cousin A acts around you?’ or ‘Mr G likes a lot of your Instagram posts. Does he follow you on any other social media?’
- Encourage your child to talk by asking questions like ‘Is anything worrying you?’ or ‘Are you OK?’
- Contact the National Domestic Family and Sexual Violence Counselling Service for advice by calling 1800RESPECT or 1800 737 732.
This can help you make the best possible decisions to keep your child safe.
If you suspect a child has experienced sexual abuse or has been groomed, report your concerns to the police on 000.