Grooming is a process of getting someone ready to do whatever is asked of them by their abuser. It means working to build an emotional connection,  complete trust and reliance, often isolating the victim completely from their support network – friends, family etc.

Once a person has been groomed they can then be led into a number of situations they may not otherwise enter – such as sexual exploitation, criminal exploitation, extremism or financial exploitation.

What does it feel like to be groomed?

IF someone is being groomed it won’t feel scary and wrong it will feel exciting and special. Grooming is a process of building trust so that a person will often feel loved and understood. They will think they have control, that they are getting what they want and that they have changed or grown up to fit in with new friends.

Generally they will feel happy and confident throughout this period, looking forward to new opportunities and potentially, experiencing new things (such as parties, drinking and drugs) for the first time and not realising they are in any danger.



A person will find themselves being asked or forced to do sexual things with their partner, or someone else, that they don’t want to do. They will often be told that there is no other option, that they owe someone.

This could be because they have been given gifts, affection, a place to stay or because they think their partner is in trouble and that this is a way they can help them.

What does it feel like to be Sexually Exploited?

Exploitation feels completely different to grooming but is only possible once someone has been groomed to a point they are almost dependant on their abuser. They will often feel like it is normal, that it is just how a relationship works, they are in love and no-one else matters, being manipulated into believing that it is ok.

Often they will feel like they owe their abuser, that there is no going back and sometimes that they deserve it. No one deserves to be exploited. When it comes to walking away a victim will feel threatened, scared, trapped and humiliated. They might be pressured to get their friends involved and often feel that no one will believe them.


  • Going missing for periods of time or regularly returning home late,
  • Skipping school or being disruptive in class,
  • Receiving unexplained gifts or possessions that can’t be accounted for,
  • Regularly getting STI’s,
  • Being worried about becoming pregnant, falling pregnant or having abortions (and/or the morning after pill),
  • Having mood swings and changes in temperament,
  • Using drugs and/or alcohol and being hungover on a regular basis,
  • Behaving in a sexual way, such as over-familiarity with strangers, dressing in a sexualised manner or sexting and sending nude,
  • Using sex in exchange for something,
  • Signs of unexplained physical harm, such as bruising and cigarette burns,
  • Having new friends or partners (who might be a lot older) and ignoring older friend,
  • Secrecy around phone and activities.

Some of these can just be signs of growing up, we all change as we grow up. However, if you spot several of these in your friend it might be worth speaking to them or a trusted adult about the situation. Check out the Who Can Help? section for more information!