Signs of Grooming in Adults – What to Watch Out For

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Grooming is a form of abuse that involves manipulating someone until they’re isolated, dependent, and more vulnerable to exploitation. 

Grooming itself is not listed as one of the 10 categories of harm in The Care Act. But many of the types of harm listed in The Care Act, including modern slavery, physical, sexual and financial abuse, can happen as a result of grooming.

When most people think about grooming, they think about children. But adults are vulnerable to grooming too.

In this post we’ll explore the the issue of adult grooming, including the signs of grooming that you should look out for.

What is Adult Grooming?

It’s a gradual process. The abuser picks their target, build up trust, and the actual abuse, which is usually sexual or financial, doesn’t come until much later.

It often starts with friendship. The groomer will look for ways to gain their target’s trust, often with gifts or promises. Eventually they’ll start to ask for something in return, and this eventually leads to abuse. Because groomers work to befriend their victims, some organisations refer to it as “mate crime”.

Grooming can happen in person, or it can happen online. Online grooming might be referred to as “catfishing”, where the groomer pretends to be someone they’re not in order to gain trust. Read our guide to staying safe online here.

Grooming can also take the form of predatory marriage. This is where someone exploits an adult, often with dementia. They isolate them from their family and coerce them into marriage. To find out more listen to our podcast or contact Justice for Joan.

Why Does Adult Grooming Happen?

There are many reasons why someone might groom an adult.

Some cases of grooming result in financial abuse. In these cases, the groomer’s motivation is clear – financial or material game.

Many cases of grooming lead to sexual abuse. Again, in these instances it’s clear to see what the groomer’s getting out of the arrangement.

Grooming can also result in radicalisation, in which case the groomer is simply working to win someone over to their cause.

But in some cases of grooming it might be difficult to identify a motive. Unfortunately, some people just enjoy having power over others.

Signs of Grooming

Here’s some of the signs of grooming you should look out for:

  • The person becomes withdrawn, or they may seem troubled by something but unwilling to talk about it. Alternatively, their emotions might become more volatile.
  • You notice them using or wearing something new, that you didn’t buy for them.
  • Groomers often aim to isolate their targets from their family or friends. If they seem reluctant to see you, or they refuse a visit, it might be because someone’s manipulating them.
  • You notice that sums of money have disappeared from the person’s bank account, or the person claims they cannot pay for food or bills.
  • The person might be spending more time on the phone, or online, than usual. But they won’t say what sites they’re visiting, or who they’re talking to.
  • They start talking about a new “friend”, “boyfriend” or “girlfriend”, and it’s not clear who they are or how they met them.

Grooming can also lead to radicalisation. In which case, you might notice that the person starts talking about an issue or a cause that’s never really interested them before. Head here for more information about radicalisation and adults.

What To Do If Your Suspect Grooming is Happening

The problem is that victims of grooming often don’t feel like they need help. Also, some instances of grooming have all the appearance of authentic romances or relationships, until it’s too late.

If you suspect someone close to you is being groomed, either online or in person, there are plenty of ways you can get the support and guidance you need.

Respond is an organisation that provides a range of services to people with learning disabilities who have suffered from sexual abuse. You can call their helpline on 0808 808 0700.

Operation REPEAT is a campaign to address the problem of doorstop crimes and scam prevention. Not many people realise that these issues count as grooming. But you can report a crime, or share your concerns, by calling 101 or 999 in an emergency.

Small Steps can help you if you suspect that someone close to you is in danger of being radicalised. You can email them at

You can also give the Ann Craft Trust team a call on 0115 951 5400. Talk to us about your concerns, and we’ll let you know the steps to take to get help.