Child Sex Exploitation

Online Grooming

Child sexual exploitation doesn’t just happen face to face – it can also happen online.

Online grooming is when someone uses the internet or a mobile phone to build an emotional connection with a child to gain their trust for the purposes of sexual abuse or exploitation.


The groomers will hide their true intentions, and may even pretend to be someone else, in order to gain the trust of a young person.
They may:

  • Lie about their age or friend group
  • Offer advice and understanding
  • Buy gifts
  • Give the child attention
  • Use their professional position or reputation
  • Take the child on trips or outings


In order to target a child, groomers might send messages to hundreds of young people to see if they reply. They may also look for usernames or comments that are flirtatious, have sexual meaning, or that suggest a child is vulnerable.

Once they have established trust, the groomer will use their power to control the child.

A young person who is being exploited online may be persuaded, or forced, to;

  • Send or post sexually explicit images of themselves
  • Take part in sexual activities via a web cam, smart phone, or app
  • Have sexual conversations by text or online


Abusers may threaten to send images, videos, or copies of conversations to the young person’s friends and family unless they take part in other sexual activity.
Sometimes online grooming may develop into sexual activity in the physical world, however, in some cases involve solely online sexual activity.


Children might not speak out abuse because they aren’t aware they are being abused. They may believe they are in a relationship with the person, and that they are the only person they can trust. This is all part of the grooming process.


They might also be reluctant to speak out because they feel ashamed or guilty, or because they are scared what their abuser will do if they tell anyone.


If you’re worried that a child you know is being groomed, it’s important you speak out straight away.


You can call police on 101 (or 999 in an emergency) or make a report to the Child Exploitation Online Protection Centre.


Read the PACE guide on understanding online risks.


There are also a number of other organisations who can offer help and support.


We’ve also got advice for young people and advice for parents and carers on how to stay safe online.