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Online Safety: Grooming, Abuse and Exploitation

Online Grooming: Abuse and Exploitation

“Online Grooming” describes the process of developing a friendship or relationship with a child online, with the intention of abusing or exploiting them - this can include sexual and criminal exploitation as well as for extremism. Offenders may use social networks, online games or live streaming sites to identify and communicate with young people.

Online abuse and exploitation can/may:

  • Occur through online chats, pictures, videos or webcams and the young person may never physically meet their abuser
  • Begin online then move offline
  • Be perpetrated by individuals or groups, males or females, other children or adults
  • Be a one-off or a series of incidents over time
  • Affect any young person under the age of 18 years.

Knowing the signs

Some signs that may indicate a child is experiencing online abuse or exploitation can include:

  • Being secretive about who they’re talking to or what they’re doing online
  • Spending significantly more or less time on their phone or social media
  • Changes in mood or behaviour immediately after using the internet
  • Self-harming or feeling suicidal.

It is not always the case that “online groomers” lie about their identity or pretend to be a child themselves; in some cases, the young person may legitimately believe they are in a relationship with the perpetrator and may not recognise that they are being abused.

An adult sharing sexual message with a child or asking a child to perform sexual acts online is a criminal offence; this should be reported locally to the Police via 101 (or 999 if there is an immediate risk of harm) or via the National Crime Agency Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command (NCA-CEOP) Safety Centre.

If you are concerned that a child or young person is at risk of online abuse or exploitation, follow your existing safeguarding procedures.

For more information about online sexual abuse and exploitation, access the NCA-CEOP Think U Know website. Staff should be aware of the UKCIS ‘Challenging victim blaming language and behaviours when dealing with the online experiences of children and young people’ guidance.