Caught in a trap: the impact of grooming What young people told ChildLine about grooming and sexual exploitation in 2011/12

Boy on mobile phoneChildLine provided almost 16,000 counselling sessions in 2011/12 to young people talking about sexual abuse. This report focuses on what children told us about how they were groomed into sexual exploitation.

It discusses the challenges around understanding grooming and how young people feel trapped in situations they cannot control. It looks at what happens when they try to tell someone and highlights the need for the right support to help young people break free.

Authors: Michelle Turnbull, Rhiannon Davies and Claire Brown
Published: 2012

  • Young people, professionals and families find it hard to recognise grooming and sexual exploitation.
  • Most young people did not use the word “grooming” when talking about their experiences.
  • Some young people struggled to recognise that they have been in exploitative relationships.
  • Parents and professionals also often assumed that the relationship was consensual.
  • Young people often talked about relationships with family and friends that had broken down. The perpetrator was someone to talk to and confide in about these issues.
  • Some young people were bribed with money, alcohol or drugs; making it difficult for the young person to tell an adult what was happening.
  • Young people were asked to send sexually explicit images or texts, perform sexual acts on video links, and engage in sexual acts face-to-face with one or more people.
  • Some young people felt dirty and ashamed that they had let the situation get to this point.
  • Many young people said they were not getting the emotional support they needed to cope with what had happened.
Introduction 3
Summary 7
Scared and alone 8
Setting the "trap" 10
From a "friend" or "boyfriend" to an abuser 12
Feeling "dirty" or "ashamed" 14
Elizabeth's story (part two) 16
Breaking the "trap" (the right support) 18

"He makes me feel special because he pays attention to me and I like that because no-one else does."

"They think he is grooming me but we are in love and if he was trying to hurt me he would have tried something but he hasn't. I don't think anyone understands."

"I feel so stupid and upset. I never thought I would get in this situation. I feel like hurting myself and ending it all."

"I was raped and groomed from when I was 12 years old, and I am finding it so hard to sleep at night. No-one knows about it as I don't know what they will think of me and I am scared to tell anyone. I used to self-harm really bad – and I want to go back to it to take the pain away."

Please cite as: Turnbull, M., Davies, R. and Brown, C. (2012) Caught in a trap: the impact of grooming in 2012. London: NSPCC.

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