What is grooming?

Before we start, we need to understand that the basis of most relationships is trust. There are thousands of different relationships that we have throughout our lives. Some of them good and some of them bad. However, they all play a valuable part in our overall experience of life. Without relationships we would be cyborgs, void to any emotion or need other than to survive. The relationships that we build are based largely on the similarity or lack of similarity of our values and beliefs.

When we initiate a new relationship, we put aside our values and beliefs in order to establish enough rapport to create the trust that we need. For example, when we look for a new partner, how many of us put aside our core values, just to get past first base?

So many relationships fail because the core values and beliefs differ over time and they can tend to have various conflicts that cannot be resolved

For young people understanding beliefs and values at an early age can be challenging. Many perceived temporary values can change on a ad-hoc basis and this can create challenges in relationships.

A good example would be, when a young person changes his/her values from being part of a collective such a gang, to pursuing a career or different relationship. This change in values and beliefs can an almost certainly will produce conflicts within the wider group.

The introduction of peer pressure can result in more complexed demands.

As adults we sometimes identify this behaviour in relationships which can include family, partners and friendships. Many adults enter into relationships that become one sided and manipulative, yet they are not quite sure of how they ended up there. So many of these relationships result in violence and abuse and end up leading to low self esteem, lack of confidence and a general feeling of being lost. The relationship can last many years. These types of relationships are particularly harmful, but challenging to leave as there may be additional factors such as children, financial obligations or simply fear that form the basis of the relationship.

So it is important to understand the behaviour of such individuals and why they use specific skills and behaviours to manipulate others.​

Clean Skins and Cuckoo’s

So, how easy would it be for a groomer to get you into a debt cycle? Groomers are particular when they are targeting. They will endeavour to look for people with vulnerable personalities. They are very confident that they can establish relationships fairly quickly and are acute at appearing to understand the areas such as family challenges, abuse and bereavement etc. A potential groomer will present as a shoulder to lean on, a friend in need or a support mechanism.

A Clean Skin is a term often used to describe a newly initiated prospect. The term is used because a person with no experience of the intent, is more likely to fall prey and will probably have had no contact with the Law before.

The objective of the grooming process is to create a friendship that offers support in such a way that it appears to be a genuine friendship or sexual relationship. This process is heavily dependant on creating a series of events that result in debt or abuse. Once an individual is in this grooming process, it can be difficult to get out, with the escalation of demands and violence used to control.

Once a debt or type of control has been established, victims of grooming can often be forced into selling drugs or sold into the sex trade.

‘The reference to Cuckoo is used as a slang or description to a house that sells or distributes drugs’. 


Signs that cuckooing has taken place include:

  • signs of drugs use
  • more people coming and going from the property
  • more cars or bikes outside  
  • litter outside 
  • you haven’t seen the person who lives there recently or when you have, they’ve seemed anxious, distracted or not themselves.

Children living in these properties are at risk of neglect and other types of abuse If you’re worried, it’s important to contact the Police or NSPCC immediately.

Signs of criminal exploitation

There are some signs to look out for if you’re worried a child or young person has joined a gang, or is being criminally exploited. It might be hard to spot at first, but the sooner you’re able to talk to the young person the more you’ll be able to help them.

  • Frequently absent from and doing badly in school.
  • Going missing from home, staying out late and travelling for unexplained reasons.
  • In a relationship or hanging out with someone older than them.
  • Being angry, aggressive or violent.
  • Being isolated or withdrawn.
  • Having unexplained money and buying new things.
  • Wearing clothes or accessories in gang colours or getting tattoos.
  • Using new slang words.
  • Spending more time on social media and being secretive about time online.
  • Making more calls or sending more texts, possibly on a new phone or phones.
  • Self harming and feeling emotionally unwell.
  • Taking drugs and abusing alcohol.
  • Committing petty crimes like shop lifting or vandalism.
  • Unexplained injuries and refusing to seek medical help.
  • Carrying weapons or having a dangerous breed of dog

Dangers of criminal exploitation

It’s important to be aware of the risks of criminal exploitation or being involved with a criminal gang. They can use  different tactics to recruit and exploit children and young people, including bribing them with rewards, befriending them, and threatening them, or coercing them.

Dangers of criminal exploitation include:

Dangers of criminal exploitation include:

  • being subject to threats, blackmail and violence
  • being exploited and forced to commit crimes
  • being arrested, including for crimes committed by the gang that they have not directly committed under the law of joint enterprise
  • not being able to leave or cut off ties with the gang
  • having their safety or the safety of friends and family threatened
  • risk of physical harm, rape and sexual abuse
  • risk of emotional abuse
  • risk of severe injury or being killed
  • abusing drugs, alcohol and other substances
  • long term impact on education and employment options.