Cybergrooming

Many children and young people are sexually harassed and abused on the Internet. The preparation of these crimes is called cybergrooming. Perpetrators look for their victims on popular platforms like TikTok and Snapchat or in video games like Fortnite. There, the perpetrators involve children and young people in initially harmless conversations. Then they urge them to send pictures and videos or even arrange a meeting. Clear rules for dealing with strangers in chat rooms can protect children from this danger. On this page, we provide information about prevention of cybergrooming. If something has already happened, you will also find contact to services that offer help with cybergrooming.

What is cybergrooming?

Cybergrooming refers to the initiation of sexual contact with minors on the Internet. The word "grooming" means "to groom" and stands metaphorically for the subtle approach of perpetrators to children and young people.

Cybergrooming is characterized by certain perpetrator strategies that are often similar. They are all based on exploiting children's and adolescents' cluelessness, trustfulness and lack of risk awareness. The perpetrators often try to establish a relationship of trust or dependency in order to manipulate and control their victims.

Sexual harassment of minors online is not uncommon. Almost a quarter of all children and young people (24%) have already been asked out by adults online. Every sixth child has been promised something in return by older people if they send pictures or videos of themselves. One in seven children has already been asked to undress in front of a webcam or turn on their cell phone camera, and around 15 percent of all children have been sent nude pictures unintentionally. Here you can find further results of the representative survey of children and young people, commissioned by the Media Authority of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Where does cybergrooming take place?

Cybergrooming can basically take place anywhere there are contact opportunities. Especially services that are known to be used by children and young people are interesting for perpetrators. These include large online platforms such as YouTube and Twitch, social networks such as TikTok, Instagram and Facebook, but also online games and gaming platforms such as Fortnite or Steam. In order to circumvent the security precautions of the platforms, the perpetrators often try to switch to more private communication channels, such as messenger or video chat services, after making initial contact.

Cybergrooming is punishable by law

From a criminal law perspective, the term cybergrooming refers to the targeted influencing of children (persons under the age of 14) via the Internet with the aim of initiating sexual contact. This is a form of sexual abuse and is punishable in Germany(§§ 176a and 176b StGB). Cybergrooming can result in a prison sentence of three months to five years or six months to ten years.

How to protect children from cybergrooming?

Parents and educators should make children and young people aware of the danger of cybergrooming at an early stage. Here you will find tips on what preventive protective measures can be taken.

Stay in touch with children and young people about their online experiences. Ask regularly which networks and online services your children are using. Signal that you are always available if there are problems. Few children and young people actively ask for help when they are affected by cybergrooming or online sexual violence. The reasons for this are usually shame, the feeling that it is their own fault, but also fear of punishment, for example in the form of an Internet ban. Parents should therefore reassure their children that they are not to blame and that they need not fear punishment or condemnation if they confide.

Many children and adolescents feel uncomfortable talking about topics related to their own sexuality. Those who do not want to discuss these things with their parents or other trusted persons may feel more comfortable using an anonymous counseling service. As a precaution, therefore, also make children and young people aware of anonymous counseling services such as the "Nummer gegen Kummer" (number against grief) or the "Hilfetelefon sexueller Missbrauch" (help hotline for sexual abuse). We have compiled an overview here.

Perpetrators often use similar manipulative strategies to approach children and youth. Make children and teens aware of the warning signs. While younger children should not communicate with strangers online at all, parents will have difficulty enforcing such restrictions with teenagers. However, you should introduce important rules for online communication early on and firmly agree them with your children. For example, it should be clear that young people should immediately break off contact with strangers in the following cases and seek advice from people they know and trust:

  • If the conversation turns to sexuality or previous sexual experiences.
  • if gifts of money or other "advantages" are offered (for example in online games).
  • when sending pictures or videos is requested or the webcam is to be used.
  • when the conversation is to be quickly moved to a more private communication channel (e.g. Skype or other messenger, e-mail, telephone).
  • When an offline meeting is suggested.

In the klicksafe poster "Warning signals in chat" you can find further hints.

Explain the risks of online communication. For example, it is common practice for perpetrators to record what is happening in front of the webcam or to demand revealing images. These recordings are then used to blackmail further sexual encounters online or offline. The extortion of money also occurs(sextortion). In addition, the recordings can be disseminated on the Internet, where they may be shared and viewed en masse. Children and young people should therefore be aware that once pictures, videos and contact via webcam have been sent, they are never safe and private.

Children and young people should know that they can break off online contacts at any time if something makes them uncomfortable. In addition, familiarize children and young people with the reporting and blocking systems that exist on all common platforms. If possible, all attempts at cybergrooming and online sexual violence should be reported (for example, to the police or ZEBRA). Perpetrators usually do not just look for a victim, but contact children and young people en masse. Even if you have escaped the danger yourself, you can prevent perpetrators from abusing other children and young people by reporting them within the platform or to the police.

Parents should help set up online profiles (especially privacy & security settings). Often, the basic settings of the services are unsafe for children, so that contact by strangers is possible or all private pictures are freely accessible. Precautions can also be taken on devices themselves. For the smartphone, you can find support for this, among other things, in the brochure "Smartphones souverän nutzen". However, technical protective measures are only one of several pillars of prevention and can only protect if they are accompanied by the teaching of rules of conduct (see above: Name warning signs & Agree rules).

Materials for teenagers

How can children and young people protect themselves from cybergrooming, the initiation of sexual violence on the Internet, and defend themselves against it? In cooperation with the online counseling platform JUUUPORT, klicksafe has developed a brochure and videos for young people. We were supported in this by the Independent Commissioner for Child Sexual Abuse (UBSKM). In addition, we publish a poster and webcam stickers that help sensitize adolescents to the topic.

Video series "WEHR DICH! Against sexualized violence on the net"

In the video series accompanying the information brochure of the same name "WEHR DICH! Against Sexualized Violence on the Net", the two JUUUPORT scouts Jasmin and Stephan give young people further tips on how to defend themselves against sexual violence on the Net.

→ All five videos can be found on our video series page.

Counseling centers for those seeking help

  • The Sexual Abuse Help Portal is a service provided by the Independent Commissioner on Child Sexual Abuse. It offers a lot of information on the topic and helps to find help and counseling services locally - but also online or by phone.
  • Nummer gegen Kummer e.V. offers anonymous and free telephone counseling for children, adolescents and parents. Children and adolescents can also contact the em@il counseling of the "Nummer gegen Kummer" (number against sorrow).
    Children's and young people's telephone Tel.: 116 111, Mon. to Sat. from 2 to 8 p.m.
    Parents ' telephone Tel.: 0800 - 111 0 550, Mon. to Fri. from  9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesdays and Thursdays until 7 p.m.
  • youth.support is an advice and help service for children aged 12 and over and young people.
  • The "Sexual Abuse Help Lineis the nationwide, free and anonymous contact point for victims of sexual violence, for relatives as well as people from the social environment of children, for professionals and for all interested parties. It is a contact point for people who are looking for relief, advice and support, who are worried about a child, who have a suspicion or a "funny feeling", who are unsure and want to ask questions about the topic.
    Phone: 0800-30 50 750 (free and anonymous)
  • JUUUPORT is a nationwide advice platform where young people can help each other if they have problems on or with the Internet. Whether cyberbullying, rip-offs, data security or technology - young people canask questions about all web topics at www.juuuport.de.
  • Anyone affected by cybergrooming can report these assaults to ZEBRA . The report is checked by the Media Authority NRW and forwarded to the Central and Contact Point Cybercrime North Rhine-Westphalia. For educational professionals, there is a handout on the reporting form.