Skip to content

What is online grooming?

Cyber/online grooming refers to the process of establishing an emotional connection with a person, typically under the age of 18, through manipulation, deception, or coercion for purposes of sexual abuse, exploitation, or trafficking. Predators can be acquaintances, strangers, or individuals encounter online. 

Grooming can happen to anyone, and it is never the victim's fault. 

Recruitment methods

The grooming process is not a linear one. It is often difficult to locate the start and end points of the process. Recruitment methods typically fall into two categories.

“Hook fishing” is a passive, low-risk recruitment strategy, luring victims through classified job advertisements on commercialized or legitimate websites, fake employment agencies, and job boards. These deceptive job postings can also circulate in job searching groups and in mutual aid groups, targeting individuals seeking an escape from economic downturn, social exclusion, gender discrimination or weak legal or social protection system in their home country. They promise high pay or travel benefits to entice potential victims. Trafficked people are forced to comply through a series of abusive acts once they reach the destination country. Romanian adults and children are often subject to labor trafficking in agriculture, construction, hotels, manufacturing, and domestic service, as well as forced begging and theft in Romania and other European countries. Migrants from East Asia, Middle East and South and Central Asia are at a particular risk of trafficking. 

“Hunting” refers to the proactive approach taken by predators in selecting and pursuing potential victims. Social media platforms, chat rooms, dating apps, webcam sites, and online gaming communities are commonly utilized for recruitment purposes due to their high appeal and wealth of information available on user profiles and timelines.

Previous research has shown recruitment activities taking place on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Kik, Meetme com, WhatsApp, Plenty of Fish, Tinder, Grindr, OKCupid, Chatroulette, and Monkey.

Groomers typically employ tactics such as faking or concealing their identities and using encrypted applications to evade detection. They fabricate personal details and may even pretend to be related to the victim to establish a false sense of trust. They present themselves as a child or a late teen with shared hobbies or interests to cultivate an emotional connection or introduce themselves a bit more experienced. Some groomers use voice changing software’s to sound like a young person and provide comfort and confidence to the victim as they interact.

Call 119.

In Romania, the 119 hotline is a toll-free emergency number for children. The service is available 24/7 to report child abuse, neglect, exploitation and any other form of violence, including child trafficking.

Who is at risk of recruitment

Identifying root causes and aggravating factors of vulnerability is a complex task. Groomers typically target children and adolescents who display economic, physical, psychological, family-related, social, or emotional vulnerabilities, or who have already experienced victimization. Individuals with backgrounds associated with strained relationships with parents, absence of strong support networks, experiences in foster care, instances of running away, criminal records, mental health disorders, alcohol and/or substance use, poverty, or homelessness elevate risks. Additionally, parents who lack general awareness of online risks and fail to monitor their children’s online activities may inadvertently expose their children to exploitation.

Certain demographics, including girls, politically spoken, individuals with disabilities, refugees, members of the Black or LGBTIQ+ community are disproportionately targeted. In the context of Romania, vulnerable groups extend to children in or aging out of government-run institutions, street children, children whose parents travel abroad for work, members of the Roma community, children with HIV/AIDS, women with little education and income, migrants, and asylum-seekers. 

Globally, women and girls make up 94% of identified victims with adult females comprising the majority of victims in EU Member States (ICAT, 2019). Children represent nearly half of identified trafficking victims in Romania. 

How do the offenders gain trust and recruit their victims

Collection of personal information

Grooming often commences with the identification of a vulnerable individual. Predator collects personal information about age, name, address, mobile number, and school and browses through photos and videos in social media accounts to identify a vulnerable individual. The first interaction is initiated through liking, commenting, sending texts, and posting updates, photos, and videos. Conversation begins innocent and polite, asking general questions to gain trust from the victim.

Groomer’s study latest music, games, hobbies and trends or victim’s specific interests to form a special bond. They attempt to create a safe environment in which the victim can feel comfortable. They create an impression that they are, friendly, trustworthy, and harmless

Integration into the victim’s life

The next stage concerns infiltration and integration into the victim’s life by exploiting their emotional needs.

Groomers employ ‘befriending’ tactics, such as making promises of gifts, guidance, online credit, financial assistance, and showering the victim with extreme flattery, compliments, attention, and affection. One prevalent strategy is the “lover boy” technique, where groomer offers empathy and support within the context of a romantic relationship.

Additionally, victim's perception of reality can be manipulated to make them doubt their own experiences and feelings. Groomers will ideally become a confidant of the victim. 

The isolation stage

The isolation stage follows after dependency is established. The idea is to distance the victim from friends and family. This process may be expedited by relocating victim to a country where they cannot speak the common language, blocking his/her access to information and help. Groomers prey on victim’s fear of punishment in the form of losing access to technology or feelings of embarrassment.

Sexualizing the relationship

The final stages concern sexualizing the relationship. Groomers first introduce sexual themes to the conversation, then start sharing pornographic images and videos. Sexual themes are repeatedly introduced over a short duration to desensitize the victim. Groomers eventually request from victims to take photos or videos of themselves and share them. 

Control is maintained through coercion, threats, violence, fear, or blackmail such as distributing non-consensual intimate images, stalking, and hacking social media accounts, threatening to spread lies or rumors, threatening to harm the victim and his/her family, or creating accounts to impersonate victims. Technology is used to market and transfer abuse material to customers. Groomers also often use a survivor’s friend lists, tagged photos, location “check-ins” or sharing apps, and metadata of GPS coordinates to check up on their activities and real-time track of movements. They can also control victims through video surveillance.

Online Grooming Safety Tips

Safety Tips

  1. Limit the amount of personal information shared online. This may include your home address, phone number, school name, or details about their daily routine and social media handles.

  2. Set privacy settings.

  3. Install software/filters that block access to inappropriate sites.

  4. Educate yourself on online risks and learn critical thinking skills. Recognize signs and consequences of grooming, be aware of the tactics employed by groomers and stay alert on dangers of interacting with strangers online.

  5. Encourage open communication between parents/guardians and children. Have conversations about consent and relationships.

  6. Report suspicious behavior.

  7. Seek help if needed.

Get Help

  1. Telefonul Copilului 116111 provides service in Romanian and English. Opening hours are Monday through Sunday from 8am – 8pm.

  2. Happygraff is a mobile application where teens and young people can record their emotions. Users have access to useful tips for overcoming negative emotional states and reporting abuse and potentially illegal content. (Romanian language).

  3. Ora de Net puts together safe internet resources. The esc_ABUZ (escape abuse) Hotline is used for reporting. (English and Romanian languages). There is also a help/counseling line called ctrl_AJUTOR (control help), available through 0744 360 446, or live chat at (Romanian language)

  4. The Child Helpline, 119, is for free, operating twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week (Romanian language).

This site uses cookies

In order to provide you with the best browsing experience we use cookies. If you disagree with this, you may withdraw your consent by changing the settings on your browser.

More info