How does online grooming work?
Sometimes you cannot be sure whether the person you interact with over the internet is really who he/she is claiming to be. Online grooming means that an unknown person, often an adult, impersonates someone else, for example a teenager, to try to gain the confidence of children or young people, coax them into revealing certain information and then abuse his/her position of power in one way or another. All this is based on different stages and/or strategies designed to make emotionally neglected, insecure children open up to the perpetrator as fast as possible. The most vulnerable are children who live under uncertain circumstances without a stable, loving family background.
When children make acquaintances on social platforms, they may be at risk of online grooming and/or stalking. Experience shows that adults typically impersonate adolescents to try to gain the confidence of children and/or young people to coax them into revealing personal information. The groomer attains a position of power which he/she will abuse later on. He/she may demand money and/or intimate photos/videos that can be used for blackmail once again, or even initiate personal contact and/or sexual relations.
This can occur, for example, when a young person accepts a person as a friend online whom he/she actually never met, who only appears to be a friend of a friend or who seems appealing based on his/her profile, has the same hobbies or likes the same music.
“Although we have never met, I really feel like I have found a special girl!”
Grooming takes place in different stages and is often built on deliberate strategy involving distinctive gestures and sentences. The groomer makes sure that his/her conversations with the victim are kept confidential and secret (“You can share with me your innermost secrets. I will not reveal them to anybody.”), tries to obtain as much personal information about the victim as possible (“Where do you go to party? Which school do you go to?”) that he/she will be able to use later on. After he/she managed to gain the confidence of the child, he/she often makes threats based on the photos/videos in his/her possession (“It will suck if I post some photos of you!”).
During online grooming, perpetrators can easily misuse their victim’s personal information and/or likeness, but abuse or child pornography might occur as well. These are all offences punishable with imprisonment.
Who are the most vulnerable?
Potential victims include young people who are less media-aware, more emotionally neglected and missing a person from their lives with whom they have at least a stable bond, for example, children in state care, from problem families and/or at risk. Online groomers exploit these children’s increased need for attention and care. They feign care, friendship or love to the victim who, in turn, gets gradually immersed in an increasingly abusive relationship.
Anyone who gets entangled in such a perpetrator’s web should not feel ashamed to ask for help. Conversations with and photos received from the perpetrator should be saved to have all the important information available to investigative authorities. You can do a lot for your own safety as well by limiting access of unknown people to your social media page using the application’s security settings. Your posts and photos should only be made visible to your friends; strangers should be excluded from your online relations.
A more detailed description of online grooming is available at