Grooming children and the law

What is grooming?

The term grooming was coined to reflect the growing problem of those who use online facilities to talk to children with the ultimate goal of meeting them for the purpose of committing a sex offence. However, any communication with a child for the purpose of abusing them – in person or otherwise – is legally considered to be grooming.

Sexual Offences Act 2003

Section 14

Under the Sexual offences Act 2003 (SOA 2003), s 14, it is an offence to arrange a meeting with a child under 16, for oneself or someone else, with the intent of sexually abusing the child. A person commits such an offence if:

  • they intentionally arrange or facilitate something that they intend to do, intend another person to do, or believe that another person will do, in any part of the world; and
  • doing it will involve the commission of an offence under any of ss 9 to 13 of SOA 2003 (ie, sexual activity with a child; causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity; engaging in sexual activity in the presence of a child; or causing a child to watch a sexual act).

Someone found guilty of this offence will, on summary conviction, face up to six months imprisonment and/or a fine. If they are convicted in the Crown Court the maximum prison sentence is 14 years.

There is a defence to this offence if the person arranges or facilitates something that, although they believe an offence might happen, they do not intend it to happen, and they act for the protection of the child. A person acts for the protection of a child if their aim is to:

  • protect the child from sexually transmitted infection;
  • protect the physical safety of the child;
  • prevent the child from becoming pregnant; or
  • promote the child’s emotional well-being by the giving of advice.

An example of this would be where a person provides a condom to a girl under 16 to protect her from sexually transmitted infections/pregnancy where she says she is already having sexual intercourse.

Section 15

Section 15 of SOA 2003 also make it a criminal offence to meet a child following the grooming process.

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For more information on:

  • Section 5
  • The Sex Offenders Register
  • Risk of Sexual Harm Order