Words Matter Part 2: Grooming

3 min readJun 30, 2022

Words have power. Our words define, describe, and assign meaning to issues and events. The words we use are essential to expressing ourselves to others and fostering understanding.

As we discussed in Part 1 of this blog series, using proper terminology when discussing child protection issues is especially critical. A common and appropriate vocabulary is necessary to frame violations against children as criminal acts, improve policy and legislation to better defend children, and avoid revictimization.

When these words are misused, not only does that impair our ability as professionals to prevent more children from experiencing harm, but it also retraumatizes survivors by taking away their power to be understood and believed.

You may have noticed discussion about “grooming” or “groomers’’ in the news or on social media recently. You may have seen a tweet using the phrase “OK groomer” as a casual insult and wondered what that meant. We hope to share clear direction in accordance with the Luxembourg Guidelines to ensure these terms are used in a way that avoids confusion and promotes the best interest of children.

What is Grooming?

Grooming is defined by the Luxembourg Guidelines as “the process of establishing or building a relationship with a child either in person or through the use of the internet or other digital technologies to facilitate either online or offline sexual contact with that person.”

Although offline grooming still occurs, changes in the internet and technology coupled with the circumstances of the global pandemic, allowed for a significant increase in the online sexual grooming of children.

Unfortunately, this means that more and more children are vulnerable to online grooming and the resulting online sexual abuse. For many of these children, the images and videos that are forcibly coerced from them by their groomer will continue to live on the internet. Every time one of those images is viewed or shared, the child is being revictimized.

Why Does it Matter?

According to a study conducted by the Global Partnership and Fund to End Violence Against Children, about one in three children who experienced online sexual abuse did not disclose their abuse to anyone. Of these children, one in five said they did not tell anyone because speaking about it would be embarrassing or too emotionally difficult. Additionally, 10% kept their abuse a secret because they didn’t feel like anyone would believe or understand them.

These children and many others who have experienced sexual abuse like grooming, face incredible difficulties in disclosing their abuse. Ensuring their words will be heard and understood is vital.

Every time terms such as grooming are used incorrectly, it takes power away from victims and forces them to continue to carry their burden alone. One survivor writes, “our words carry weight, and we fight to say them out loud.”

What Can You Do?

No matter who you are or what you do, we all have a part to play in creating a safer world for children. That can begin by using child protection terms correctly. The next time you see or hear “grooming” being used inappropriately, speak up. Use the opportunity to educate others and ensure that the power and significance of that term is preserved. Grooming, as defined above, is sexual abuse, it causes significant trauma, and it is a crime. It is a powerful term, and it deserves to be treated that way.

Words matter. Together we can ensure that the power of proper terminology is used for the healing and protection of children everywhere.

To learn more about the importance of using proper child protection terminology visit Part 1 of this series here.

For more information about how online grooming happens and what you can do to protect the children in your life, visit our blog The new “Stranger Danger”: Tactics used in the online grooming of children.




The International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children defends children from sexual exploitation, abuse, or the risk of going missing. icmec.org