Grooming forms a key part of the exploitation process. It involves building a connection with someone in order to coerce or deceive them into becoming involved in an exploitative situation.
The connection established during the grooming process could be a friendship, a romantic relationship or a relationship of dependence in which the groomer provides something that is valued, such as monetary goods or self-validation and acceptance.
Groomers seek to develop these relationships through taking a continued interest in the person and offering advice, understanding and gifts. Once a person’s trust has been gained efforts will be made to isolate them and encourage them to become reliant and dependent on the groomer. Coercion, intimidation, force and blackmail may also be used to establish power and control.
People may not recognise that they have been groomed and may not view their relationship with the person who is grooming them as exploitative. They may value greatly the connection they have with this person and appear hurt by suggestions that their relationship is in any way controlling, coercive or otherwise concerning.
Grooming can happen to anyone of any age and gender. It can take place face-to-face, via the telephone, the internet or social media – this includes social media sites, instant messaging and photo-sharing apps and online gaming platforms.
Online grooming has become a significant factor in forms of exploitation such as sexual exploitation and radicalisation. Online grooming allows people from many different geographic and social backgrounds to be exploited, including those who may not otherwise be at risk of exploitation.
Signs that someone is being groomed
- becoming secretive
- isolating themselves from existing friendships and social groups
- developing new friendships
- meeting friends in unusual places
- developing a strong attachment to a particular individual, who may appear dominant and controlling
- having an older boyfriend or girlfriend
- acquiring new items such as clothes or mobile phones, without explanation
- having access to drugs and alcohol
- expressing new and strongly-held ideas, values or beliefs.