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Grooming and child sexual exploitation

Child holding teddy bear

Child sexual exploitation is a form of child abuse which involves children being forced or manipulated by an adult or older adolescent into sexual activity for something – money, gifts, drugs, alcohol, affection, status or love.

Perpetrators may be someone already known by the child or a stranger. They attempt to form a ‘special’ friendship or relationship by building trust, an emotional connection with, or power over the child.

Grooming can be made up of a range of behaviours which are not necessarily sexual act or acts of abuse. It may be very hard to identify grooming while it is happening and it may happen over a long period of time.

A perpetrator manipulates the social, organisation or family environment so they are in a position that allows them access to a child. Step by step they attempt to build trust or power so the child becomes compliant in the sexual abuse or exploitation.

The grooming and exploitation can take place online or in person, or a combination of both.

Not all grooming leads to child sexual abuse and not all child sexual abuse includes grooming.

Children particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation include those who have already suffered child abuse, children with low self-esteem, or children without a supportive parent or care giver.

A child who has been groomed and sexually abused or exploited may trust their abuser and not realise they are being abused. They may feel like they can’t tell anyone else or that they won’t be believed if they do.

Signs of grooming and child sexual exploitation

Signs and symptoms of grooming or sexual exploitation can include:

  • unexplained gifts including new mobile phones, clothes or cash
  • advanced sexual knowledge or harmful sexual behaviours
  • being secretive about who they are meeting, what they are doing online or where they are going
  • access to drugs and alcohol
  • unexplained absences from school or home
  • other signs of child sexual abuse.

Getting help

Worried about yourself, a friend or another family member? Get help here.

Find out more

For more information on child abuse, including information on reporting child abuse, please refer to the DHHS website.