The grooming process is often a pre-cursor to sexual abuse. It can take place in person or online and can last days, weeks or months. In an era where children have increasing access and exposure to digital platforms the dark reality of online grooming has emerged as a pressing concern.
The topic of grooming has been highlighted by many organisations including the NSPCC and the police, and high profile individuals such as Bradley Wiggins who told of his experiences of being groomed by his coach in 2022.
What is grooming?
Grooming is defined as any communication with a child for the purpose of abusing them. Communication can be in various ways, such as in person or online. Perpetrators use a variety of techniques to groom victims, such as befriending and establishing an emotional connection with the child, and sometimes the child's family. These techniques are used to attempt to normalise the perpetrators inappropriate behaviour with the objective of sexual abuse.
Child grooming can regularly be used to lure minors into child trafficking, child prostitution or in the production of child pornography.
With the rapid growth of online communication, paedophiles have found various new techniques to groom children online.
A total of 6,350 crimes related to sexual communication with a child were recorded in 2022/23, a rise of 82% since the offence was first defined in 2017.
NSPCC research found that Snapchat was used in 26% of instances, while Meta's Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp were used in 47% of cases where the means of communication was recorded.
The Online Safety Act 2023
The intensity of risk to children has been acknowledged by parliament in the Online Safety Act 2023.
The Online Safety Act received Royal Assent on 26 October 2023 and is now law in the UK. It has been said to place ‘’world-first legal duties on social media platforms’’.
How does the Online Safety Act protect children against online grooming?
The Act promotes transparency relating to the risks posed to children online. Companies like Meta (who owns Facebook, Instagram, Threads and Whatsapp), will need to risk assess the dangers that their platforms pose to the safety of children. They then need to act on these risks by putting mitigations in place. Larger companies like Meta will need to publish a summary of their risk assessments.
The Act also introduces the criminal offence of ‘’cyberflashing’’, which criminalises the act of sending an unsolicited sexual image to someone online, without their consent. This is hoped to reduce the risk of children and adults being sent inappropriate pictures.
Companies like Meta will now need to prevent, detect, and remove illegal content facilitating / promoting child sexual abuse and controlling and coercive behaviour.
To summarise, the Act promotes a safer online space for children, by reducing risks, introducing new offences, and promoting transparency.
Is online grooming without leading to any physical touching illegal?
Sexual communication with a child is illegal under section 67 of the Serious Crime Act 2015. The offence applies equally to online and offline communications. Therefore, no physical touch is required if the perpetrator has been communicating with the victim intending to encourage the victim to make a communication that is sexual.
This allows authorities to intervene earlier to prevent more serious offending against children. The maximum prison sentence for the offence is two years.
Can civil compensation claims be made due to grooming?
It is possible where a conviction for grooming has been secured, to use the civil law to obtain redress in the form of compensation.
It may still be possible for a victim of grooming alone to be successful in a civil claim, but it will be necessary to show they have suffered harm.
Can CICA compensation claims be successful as a result of grooming alone (i.e. leading to no physical touching?)
Until last year the answer was no.
Facts of the case:
The case involved a child aged 12 (‘’RN’’), messaging a man on Facebook who posed online as a 12-year-old girl. The applicant’s CICA application stated that the applicant received over 6,000 messages online from the abuser. It was stated that the abuser groomed and attempted to incite the applicant into illicit sexual acts.
After finding out that the abuser was not in fact a 12-year-old girl, but an adult man, the abuser began threatening the victim. These threats were not acted upon. No physical violence ever took place.
The applicant’s injuries were stated to be ‘’mental injuries and panic attacks’’.
The abuser was convicted of attempting to cause or incite a child to engage in sexual activity and attempting to meet a boy under 16 following sexual grooming.
The CICA rejected RN’s initial application for compensation, on the basis that he had not been physically injured and that he was not placed in fear of immediate harm.
Court of Appeal’s Decision:
The CICA’s decision was appealed. After several appeals, the case was then brought in front of the Court of Appeal.
The Court of Appeal held that RN was subject to a crime of violence. However, the Court of Appeal held that RN was not subject to a sexual assault, as that required touching.
The Court of Appeal remitted the victim’s application for compensation to the CICA for reconsideration.
Nonetheless, the case is now the lead authority regarding the definition of a crime of violence under the CICA 2012 scheme. As the court held that a victim of sexual abuse which did not involve touching is a victim of a crime of violence under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme 2012 (CICS).
Should you happen to be a victim of grooming/abuse and wish to obtain advice about financial compensation routes of justice, please feel free to contact us. We are here to help and will do our best to assist you.