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Grooming: what parents should know

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1 Grooming: what parents should know
Recent incidents in Oxford, Rotherham and elsewhere around the country have led to increased focus on how abusers do what they do. This presentation will introduce parents and carers to the grooming process that sexual abusers use and the warning signs, as well as what they can do to help keep their children safe. This presentation can also be used to brief staff and governors on this difficult issue.

2 What is grooming? Grooming means forming a relationship or connection with a child for the purpose of sexually abusing them. Some abusers also ‘groom’ young people’s families – getting easier access to children by gaining the trust of their parents and carers. Note for presenters and parents/carers: When this presentation refers to ‘grooming’, we mean grooming for sexual exploitation. This is what a lot of people tend to think about when they hear the term, but it’s also possible to groom someone for other purposes. After three girls from Bethnal Green left the UK for Syria in February, for instance, many experts focused on the ways that violent extremist groups target young people online – using Twitter, and other popular sites and apps to groom them for extremism. Some of the information in this presentation might be useful to parents and carers who are worried about other types of grooming, but it’s specifically designed for parents who want to be more aware of the process and warning signs for sexual exploitation.

3 How it happens The presentation is basically in three parts.
This first part explains how grooming works – it presents a framework for thinking about the phases of grooming and explains some of the techniques abusers use to get access to children and hide the abuse. When we have explored this, we will go on to talk about the warning signs – what to watch out for. And finally, how to respond.

4 Who is at risk and what happens?
Sexual abuse can happen to boys and girls, to children living at home and in rural or urban environments. Children from any social background can be targeted. Abusers break down a child’s relationships and establish control and power over them. Grooming is like a recruitment process – children are introduced to a lifestyle that is presented as normal but is actually abusive. Children are often unaware they are being groomed by their new ‘friends’ or ‘boyfriend’. They may deny abuse and defend their new social group. Grooming can take place on and offline and can include both affection and violence, lies, blackmail or threats. There are different models of grooming – children might be exploited at parties, by groups of older men or (less often) women, as part of a gang or even by friends their own age. Once groomed the child is expected to participate in sexual activity, often in exchange for something – like alcohol, gifts, money, affection or a place to stay. Abusers don’t just target one type of child – their victims can be boys or girls, live in a rural environment or in the city, and come from any social background. Abusers do sometimes specifically look for vulnerable young people and families but anyone could be targeted by an abuser. The grooming process isolates children (weakening relationships with the people who try to protect them). It introduces them to a lifestyle which is presented as normal but is actually abusive. Often children don’t know they’re being groomed – they see the abuser(s) as a new partner or friend, and may become defensive if the relationship is criticised. Although the grooming process usually has certain characteristics it can also vary considerably. Some abusers target their victims online; some meet children in person. Some are affectionate and cultivate a sense of infatuation in their victims; some rely on violence, intimidation and blackmail. Often they use a mix of both. There are different models of grooming – sometimes exploitation takes place at a party, sometimes a gang of abusers targets children together and sometimes abuse happens peer to peer. For more information on the models of grooming you can visit Pace’s website: Once groomed the child is expected to participate in sexual activity with their abuser. Often this is in exchange for gifts or affection. The rest of the slides in this section will walk through a basic framework for the grooming process, explain the techniques abusers use to identify and isolate children and how they conceal the abuse.

5 The grooming process Initial contact Befriending Exchange of favours
Often happens through someone the child knows. Could also be direct and happen in a public place, at school, online, etc. Befriending Using attention, flattery, gifts and/or coercion to gain the child’s trust. Exchange of favours Child will be encouraged or forced to ‘pay back’ the abuser with sexual acts. Control Will try to prevent the child from resisting using threats and coercion. This can include: Encouraging substance dependency and threatening to cut off supply. Threats of violence against the child or their family. Threatening to distribute sexual images of the child (often to family or friends). Threatening to get a child in trouble with their school, family, the authorities… Exploitation Later stages of the grooming/abuse process. Abuser will continue isolating the child and weakening their relationships. The grooming process can be broken down into five stages, It’s a good idea to note that while this is a general framework, grooming doesn’t always follow the same stages and doesn’t always look the same. Initial contact: when the abuser meets and identifies a child to groom. Sometimes abusers will use other young people to approach children, but may also do it themselves. Online they might also lie about their age, gender or other personal information. Befriending: Abusers use a variety of methods to build relationships with children and gain their trust. Sometimes they use flattery, attention and gifts to make the child think they are kind and trustworthy, sometimes they rely on coercion. May offer a combination of gifts or treats and threats about what will happen if the child says ‘no’ or tells someone. Exchange of favours: Will encourage the child to pay them back for their affection or gifts with sexual acts. At this stage the abuser may rely on the child’s infatuation, shame, fear, dependency etc. Control: The abuser will try to keep the child from discussing or ending the abuse by using threats, coercion and deception. We’ll go into more detail on how they control children and conceal their behaviour in the following slides. Exploitation: Throughout the process the abuser will try to isolate the child, weakening their relationships with family and friends and cutting them off from support systems. They exploit this isolation to keep the child from seeking help and continue the abuse. More info here:

6 How do they do it? Build relationships with children and the adults in their lives. Are good at making ‘friends’ with children and those who are close to them. Target families and parents who are facing other difficulties, sometimes on their own. Offer to babysit, support parents with childcare and other responsibilities. Seek out positions of trust which put them in contact with children – childcare, faith settings, sports teams, children’s groups etc. Go to places where children spend time. Build networks of young people and target children through their friends. There are lots of different ways that abusers target children – and their families. These are some of the most common ways that perpetrators try to get access to children and gain their trust/that of the adults in their lives. Not all of these will always happen and of course not everyone who does these things is attempting to groom a child. Sometimes abusers will ‘groom’ the adults in a child’s life as well – to get increased access to the child, reduce suspicion etc. They are often skilled at ‘befriending’ children and families and may be well liked. They may seek out families who are already vulnerable or dealing with other challenges. Offers of support with parenting responsibilities like childcare will both help them gain a parent’s trust and give them access to the child. Abusers may also seek out positions of trust in the community – like childcare, faith and sport work – that both enable them to meet young people and reduce suspicion (if they’re seen as trustworthy and well-liked). Abusers might also target young people through their peers. Once they’ve already got to know a child they can use this relationship to meet other young people, especially those who might be sceptical of initial contact from an adult.

7 How do they hide it? Offering the child gifts and favours if they don’t tell anyone. Threatening physical violence against the child or their family. Blackmailing the child with sexual images. Threatening to get the child in trouble with school, family or the authorities. Playing on the child’s embarrassment or guilt – convincing them they won’t be believed or that they wanted the abuse to happen. It’s common for children not to tell anyone they’ve been abused and that can be very difficult for parents to deal with. It’s important to remember that victims of abuse struggle with coming forward for many reasons and it’s most likely nothing to do with parents or other adults around the child. Abusers are clever about silencing children and use a range of tactics to hide what they do – here are some of the most common: Offering things: abusers may tell young people they will buy them gifts if they agree to keep quiet. They might also threaten to cut off supply of a substance the child is dependent on (like cigarettes or alcohol). Threats: sometimes children do not come forward because the abuser has threatened violence them or someone they care about – often a family member or close friend. Threats can also take the form of blackmail. Abusers who have taken or been sent sexual images of a young person will sometimes threaten to show the images to their friends or family if they tell anyone about the abuse, or post them online. If the child has missed school or been involved in criminal activity, offenders may threaten to get them in trouble with family or another authority figure. Perpetrators may also convince a child that no one will believe them if they come forward, or that they actually wanted the abuse to happen and were thus a willing participant rather than a victim. Some children may not tell anyone for other reasons. Very young or disabled children, for instance, may lack the communication skills to describe what has happened.

8 How common is it? Most children are never groomed or sexually exploited… Roughly one in 20 children in the UK is sexually abused. One in 58 is sexually abused by a non-related adult. Adults who try to sexually abuse children online fail in about 69% of cases. Fortunately grooming and sexual exploitation isn’t very common – the majority of children will never experience sexual abuse. It’s always difficult to know for sure how many children have been sexually exploited because of the lengths abusers go to keep it secret, but research from CEOP and the Office of the Children’s Commissioner gives us a good idea. The NSPCC and Office of the Children’s Commissioner report that around one in 20 children is sexually abused – so about 95% of children are not. One in 58 children (or just under 2%) is sexually abused by an adult who is not a relative – so the chances of an adult stranger meeting and grooming your child are even smaller. And according to CEOP, in the majority of cases where an adult tried to sexually abuse a child online, they were not successful. Any amount of child abuse is unacceptable, but fortunately most parents will never have to worry about it. But grooming can and does happen – and knowing the signs/what you can do is never a bad idea. Sources:

9 What to watch for This part of the presentation will prepare parents to spot grooming and abuse if it happens – first by explaining some facts about who abusers are and then by laying out warning signs that are sometimes present when a child is being groomed or exploited.

10 Who abuses children? People they know.
People who have adult relationships. People of all races, religions, classes and genders. Their peers. Many of the stereotypes people have about abusers may not be accurate and could make it harder to detect sexual exploitation. Of course these are not the only characteristics of offenders (and they’re also not hard and fast rules – strangers can also be abusers, for example), but here are some facts to be aware of about the people who commit these crimes. People they know: often abusers are people the child (and their family) know and even care about. They might be a family member, friend or neighbour, or hold a responsible position in society like a teacher or religious leader. Especially when discussing online grooming we might imagine abusers as strangers lying about their identity, but often they’re community members already known to the child. People who have adult relationships: some abusers are not solely sexually interested in young people. They may have had, or currently be in, an adult relationship. People from all backgrounds: abusers come from all class/racial/religious backgrounds and may be any sexual orientation. The majority are men, but women can also be abusers. Their peers: A third of the people who have sexually abused a child are under 18. Of course it’s very disturbing to think about a child doing something like this, but it can also be harder to tell the difference between normal sexual exploration between young people and harmful or abusive behaviour. For more on children who harm other children and age appropriate sexual behaviour, parents can look here:

11 Warning signs Mood swings, increased secrecy, dramatic personality changes. Ending friendships and associating with new friends (especially older people). Staying out late or all night, getting defensive about what they were doing when questioned. Going missing from home or care. Getting unusual calls, texts or messages. Having more than one phone or duplicate social media accounts (i.e. two Facebook profiles). Being overly defensive or secretive about their phone or other devices, not wanting to be without them. It’s not easy to recognise grooming or abusive behaviour. Sometimes it goes unnoticed because the idea is so upsetting we’d rather not think about it, and sometimes it’s because people are looking in the wrong places (as discussed in the previous slide). But sometimes it’s also because people don’t know what signs to look for. The next two slides will cover warning signs for sexual abuse and grooming. It’s important to note that lots of these things – like mood swings, having new friends and not wanting to be without a phone – are fairly normal examples of teenage behaviour and don’t necessarily mean sexual abuse is taking place. And some – like health issues and personality changes – can also be warning signs for other issues, like substance abuse or depression. If your child does displays behaviours on this list it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re being groomed or abused, but you may want to look into it – especially if they show multiple signs. And you should always trust your instincts. As a parent, if it seems like something’s wrong in your child’s life, you’re likely to be right.

12 More warning signs Changes in tastes, clothing, appearance, vocabulary. Answering to a new nickname or street name. Skipping school. Involvement in offending. Worsening mental/physical health, looking tired or ill. Sleeping at strange times. Having new items they shouldn’t be able to afford – like jewellery or a new phone. Physical injuries and/or sexual health problems. Continued warning signs of sexual abuse/exploitation. There are a lot but they’re important to recognise, so take as much time as you need and encourage parents to speak up if they have a question.

13 What to do The final part of the presentation explains what parents can do – both to prevent abuse and grooming and if they suspect it’s already taking place.

14 How you can help Talk to your child about healthy and unhealthy relationships and encourage them to come to you with questions and concerns. Show an interest in what your child does online and try to keep up to date with the tech they use. Watch for the warning signs. Talk to your child’s teacher if you have concerns. Get support and advice from specialist organisations. Keep a record of any suspicious activity and report it to the police. Trust your instincts. There’s a lot you can do to protect your child, whether or not you have specific concerns. From a young age, have regular and open conversations with your children about healthy and unhealthy relationships. They should know what is and isn’t appropriate behaviour from a partner and be able to recognise when someone might have bad intentions. It’s also important to emphasise that they can always come to you if they’re worried, need advice or just want to talk. Too much monitoring isn’t the answer and no one is expecting you to know about every new app that’s released, but having a general sense of what your children do online – their favourite sites, apps, devices etc. – and who they talk to can be helpful when it comes to preventing online grooming. If they start getting unusually defensive about where they go or what they do online it could be a warning sign that something isn’t quite right. As a parent you’re probably already keeping an eye out for any changes in your child’s appearance or behaviour. Now that you know the specific warning signs of grooming and sexual abuse, you can stay alert for those too. If you start to worry that something unusual might be going on with your child – whether it’s grooming or something else – you might try asking their teacher if they’ve noticed anything. Your child’s teachers see them at schools when you’re not around and may have some insights. There are several specialist charities dealing with child abuse and sexual exploitation that both you and your child can use as sources of information and support. Pace, the NSPCC and Parents Protect all have useful resources. Important: If you do suspect grooming or sexual abuse, you should keep a record of any suspicious activity and contact the police. Always report it to the police if your child has gone missing from home or school. If you do contact the police, be very clear that you believe your child is being groomed or sexually abused and ask if you can be referred to a specialist child sexual exploitation team. Never confront an abuser yourself – this could put you and your child in greater danger. Finally, trust yourself. As a parent you’re one of the main experts on your child and you’ll be well placed to notice if anything is wrong. If you’ve noticed worrying behaviour from your child or someone in their life, it’s probably worth looking into.

15 Reporting concerns Look for the Click CEOP button
If you feel something is not right, trust your instincts and seek help from your child’s school, social services or the police. Never put yourself or your child at greater risk by confronting the abuser yourself. If you suspect that someone is trying to groom a child online or that they are being sexually abused, you should contact CEOP. Young people can also report on their own behalf or someone else’s so make sure your child knows about CEOP too. It’s also important to remind parents that if their child is in immediate danger they should always call 999. Young people, parents and other concerned adults can call the Parents Protect Stop it Now! Helpline. it is confidential and they offer immediate help and support. If you’re not able to call they also offer a confidential service, but may not be able to respond immediately. If you or your child know of child sexual abuse images anywhere online you can report them to the Internet Watch Foundation who will have the images removed. It’s extremely difficult to find out that your child has been sexually exploited. Parents and carers looking for information on how to respond if they discover abuse has taken place can read this article on Parent Info, a new service from CEOP and The Parent Zone:

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