Content warning: This page contains information that readers may find confronting or distressing.
Help is available if you or someone you know has experienced or is at risk of child sexual abuse. Our Get support page has a list of dedicated services if you need help or support. For information on reporting child safety concerns, visit our Make a report page.
If you or a child are in immediate danger, call Triple Zero (000).
In order to keep children and young people safe, it is important to understand what grooming is and how to prevent it. The term ‘grooming' refers to behaviours that manipulate and control a child, as well as their family, kin and carers, other support networks, or organisations in order to perpetrate child sexual abuse.
The intent of grooming is to:
- gain access to the child or young person to perpetrate child sexual abuse
- obtain sexual material of the child or young person
- obtain the child or young person's trust and/or compliance
- maintain the child or young person's silence, and/or
- avoid discovery of sexual abuse.1
Grooming can occur online or in-person. Online child grooming is the process of establishing and building a relationship with a child or young person while online, to facilitate sexual abuse that is either physical (in person) or online.2 This is achieved through the internet or other technologies such as phones, social media, gaming, chat and messaging apps.
Online grooming may involve perpetrators encouraging children and young people to engage in sexual activity or to send the perpetrator sexually explicit material. It may lead to perpetrators meeting the child or young person in person or blackmailing them to self-produce explicit materials. To evade detection while grooming children and young people, perpetrators may also convince them to use different online platforms, including those using encrypted technologies.3 Encrypted technologies are used to protect data from being stolen, changed, or compromised by scrambling data into a secret code that hides the information's true meaning. Only a unique digital key can unlock the secret code.
Socialising online is a great way for children and young people to build friendships and have fun, but it is important to ensure online technologies are being used in a way that keeps children and young people safe. You can find resources about how to stay safe online on the eSafety website.
How grooming occurs
Child sexual abuse and grooming can occur within families, by other people the child or young person knows or does not know, in organisations, and online. Behaviours related to grooming are not necessarily explicitly sexual, directly abusive or criminal, and may be consistent with behaviours or activities in non-abusive relationships. They can often be difficult to identify and may only be recognised in hindsight. In these cases, the main difference between acceptable behaviours and grooming behaviours is the motivation behind them.4
Grooming of a child or young person, online or in-person, may include:
- building their trust, sometimes through special attention or gifts
- treating them like an adult to make them feel different and special
- gaining the trust of their parents, family or carers
- isolating them from supportive and protective family and friends
- coercing them, including through threats, stalking and asking them to keep secrets
- manipulating them to blame themselves for the situation
- encouraging them to produce child sexual abuse imagery or enticing them to participate in sexualised virtual chats
- non-sexual touching of the child or young person that develops into sexual behaviour over time.
Signs of grooming
Being aware of the signs of grooming can help protect children and young people from child sexual abuse. A child or young person may show signs of being a victim of grooming in different ways. They may show all or some of the following signs:
- developing an unusually close connection with an older person
- having gifts or money from new friends that they cannot account for
- being very secretive about their phone, internet or social media use
- going missing for long periods of time
- appearing extremely tired, including at school
- being dishonest about who they have been with and where they have been
- substance misuse
- assuming a new name, having false identification, a stolen passport or driver licence, or a new phone
- being collected from school by an older or new friend.5
How to prevent grooming
Teaching children and young people what is appropriate and inappropriate contact (both online and offline), and encouraging open and honest communication, without shame or stigma, will help to better protect them. This includes supporting children and young people to:
- understand safe and unsafe behaviours and situations, including being able to identify early warning signs and their body's natural reactions when they feel unsafe, worried, or scared. These may include feeling butterflies, and having sweaty palms and a racing pulse
- practice safe online behaviour, including deleting and blocking requests and messages from people they don't know, and reviewing and updating privacy settings
- know what to do and who to talk to if something feels uncomfortable, as well as what support services are available if they are unsure or if something has happened
- say no to requests to engage in unsafe behaviours or sexual advances
- block unsafe users, make a complaint to social media companies and report online grooming
- understand body boundaries, respectful relationships and consent
- feel safe and protected when disclosing what is happening to them.
What to do about suspected grooming
Your child may not understand they are being groomed, and may not tell you that they are being groomed directly. It is important to understand the signs of grooming and talk to your child if you notice changes in their behaviour and suspect something isn't right.
If you suspect a child or young person is being groomed or is at risk of being groomed, contact your relevant state or territory child protection agency. Visit our Make a report page to find out more.
You can also report online grooming or inappropriate contact to the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation.
For information about what to do if something goes wrong online, visit the eSafety website.
Our Get support page provides a list of dedicated support and assistance services.
eSafety is Australia's national independent regulator and educator for online safety. It provides tools and resources for parents and carers to help keep children safe online, including access to free webinars. Issues covered include:
Educators can also use the unwanted contact and grooming scenarios with students – these are designed to start conversations that help build online safety skills.
You can also find out more about grooming on these websites:
1 Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse 2017, Final Report: Our Inquiry – Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse Volume 1, page 323.
2 ECPAT International 2016, Terminology Guidelines for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, Interagency Working Group on Sexual Exploitation of Children. Accessed November 2020 from: https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Children/SR/TerminologyGuidelines_en.pdf.
3 Five Country Ministerial 2020, Voluntary Principles to Counter Online Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, page 4. Accessed November 2020 from: https://www.weprotect.org/wp-content/uploads/11-Voluntary-principles-detailed.pdf.
4 Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse 2017, Final Report: Our Inquiry – Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse Volume 1, page 323.
5 Victorian Department of Education and Training, Child Sexual Exploitation and Grooming. Accessed April 2021 from: https://www.education.vic.gov.au/school/teachers/health/childprotection/Pages/expolitationgrooming.aspx