Online child grooming is a critical issue that has become increasingly pervasive as our youth spends more time online. We highlighted that minor safety is a key priority for ZEPETO in our Community Guidelines and published our Guardian’s Guide to equip parents, guardians, and caretakers with helpful information and resources on how to help keep our young users safe. Our Trust and Safety team is working around the clock and around the globe to prevent, detect, and remove accounts that engage in child sexual exploitation and abuse.
ZEPETO’s mission is to enable our users to create, connect, and play beyond the boundaries of the physical world, however, we recognize that the same technology that nurtures creativity and expression can also be abused by others with malicious intentions.
While we are heavily invested in developing technology to combat online grooming on our platform, the battle against these predators requires awareness, attention, and support that goes beyond human moderation and technological power.
Because our physical and digital lives have become inextricably linked, we must recognize that danger exists in the digital world just as it does in the physical world. However, digital threats permeate with exponentially easier access, higher frequency, and less visibility. Smartphone and computer screens provide a deceptive cover for predators, requiring us to be dynamic and collaborative in our fight against them.
Today, we want to provide resources that will allow our community to combat these reprehensible behaviors and actors and prevent online grooming from harming our ZEPETO users.
We have gathered resources from leading organizations on what online grooming is, how to detect it, and what to do if you or a loved one has been contacted by a potential groomer.
What is child grooming ?
Childline.org.uk defines online grooming as someone using the internet to trick, force or pressure a young person into doing something sexual-- like sending a naked video or image of themselves. Grooming is often challenging to recognize at the outset, because “groomers” will make an emotional connection with their victims and build trust before mentioning anything sexual. After consistent communication and a relationship is established, a groomer will:
- Engage in sexual conversations online or through text messages
- Convince or coerce their victims to send naked images of themselves, also known as sexting
- Convince or coerce their victims to send sexual videos of themselves
- Convince or coerce their victims to perform sexual acts or behaviors live on webcam
- Convince or coerce their victims to meet in person
The stages of grooming 
A groomer may target and exploit a young person’s perceived vulnerabilities including: emotional neediness, isolation, neglect, a chaotic home life, or lack of parental oversight, etc.
The offender will pay special attention to or give preference to a young person.
The perpetrator gains the young person’s trust by gathering information about them, getting to know their needs, and finding ways to fill those needs.
"I saw from your feed that you are a big fan of this actor. I'm planning to go see his new movie, I can take you if you want to go."
Filling a need
Once the perpetrator begins to fill the young person's needs, they may nurture more importance and presence in the young person's life. Groomers utilize tactics such as gift giving, flattery, gifting money, and meeting other basic needs. Tactics may also include increased attention and affection towards the targeted young person.
"I know you like to decorate your Avatar so I got you this new item as a gift."
The groomer uses isolation tactics to reinforce their relationship with the young person by creating situations in which they are alone together. The perpetrator may reinforce the relationship with the young person by cultivating a sense that they love and understand the young person in a way that others, even their parents, cannot.
"You can trust me because no one understands you the way I do."
Sexualizing the relationship
Once emotional dependence and trust have been established, the groomer progressively sexualizes the relationship. Groomers will begin to discuss sex explicitly, mentioning sexual activities with the young person to desensitize them. At this point, the groomer may also begin to request sexual images or videos and/or send their own.
"Have you ever masturbated? I can show you how it feels really good."
Once sexual abuse is occurring, groomers use secrecy, blame, and threats to maintain the young person’s participation and continued silence. The victim may feel that the loss of the relationship, or the consequences of exposing it, will be more damaging and humiliating than continuing being subject to the abuse.
"If you tell anyone, we both could go to jail. We won't be able to be together." Or "If you tell anyone, something bad could happen to your family."
Red flags to look out for
Every grooming situation can look different. There is no typical description of a groomer– they can be old, young, male, female, someone you just met online, or even someone you know. Their actions are dangerous because it is often difficult to recognize when you are being groomed. Remember, online groomers are experts at deception: lying about who they are and masking their true intentions.
Below is a list of red flag behaviors to help you identify a potential online groomer:
- If a person you recently met online is sending you multiple messages
- If someone tells you to keep your conversation(s) a secret
- If someone asks questions to find out if you are alone in a room
- Sexual messages that could be disguised as compliments or questions about past sexual experience
- If someone tries to get personal information about you or where you live
- If someone tries to manipulate you into sending photos against your will or tries to blackmail you using photos that you may have already shared
- Gift-giving (large or small): a grooming technique used to flatter you into trusting the aggressor
What should you do?
If you feel like you’ve experienced or are experiencing any behaviors mentioned in this post, you may have identified a potential online grooming situation.
Here are a few things you can do:
- Block: If you do not feel comfortable and do not want to interact with that person, you can Block the user on ZEPETO. See how to block another user on ZEPETO here.
- Report: If you experience or witness any possible online grooming on ZEPETO, report the user to us so we can investigate and remove bad actors from our platform (How to report on ZEPETO). You are not alone and we can protect our community together.
- Ask the person to stop: As a first step, you might want to deal with the situation yourself. If you feel up to it, you can ask the person to stop– tell them you don't feel comfortable sending sexual images of yourself. You can also choose to block them on ZEPETO.
- Tell an adult you trust: If the groomer keeps talking to you, it may be best to tell an adult you trust or report them. While telling an adult may seem scary or embarrassing and you may fear getting in trouble, getting someone’s support and exposing the groomer will help you start to get out of a bad and uncomfortable situation.
- Call the police: If you feel you are in imminent danger or under immediate threat, call your local emergency service
- US: 911
- Korea: 112
- Indonesia: 110 or 112
- Thailand: 911 or 191
- Japan: 110
- For other countries, check out the US Department of State’s International Emergency Contact Information
- Intervene: If you witness or suspect that your friend may be a victim of online grooming, you have the ability to help prevent it from continuing. If you feel comfortable, you can intervene on behalf of your friend and directly tell the groomer to stop or that you are aware of the situation and will be reporting them. Otherwise, you can share the steps above with your friend or confide in an adult who can help. Being the subject of grooming is a scary ordeal. When you communicate with this person, here are a few questions to help guide your perspective and approach:
- How would I feel if I were in their shoes?
- How would I want my friends to support me?
- Even if I don’t understand how someone feels, how can I help them feel better?
The battle against online grooming feels overwhelming. Thankfully, there is a dynamic ecosystem of support– from NGOs to law enforcement to tech companies and so many more organizations– who are coming together to stand up and strengthen our responses to the sexual exploitation of children in the digital age . ZEPETO is working closely with many of these organizations to ensure our users can safely embark on exciting adventures in the metaverse and bring their ideas to life.
If you or someone you know is a survivor of online grooming, remember that you did nothing to deserve that harm and it takes an enormous amount of strength and courage to escape these situations. You matter and there is a community to support you.
If you encounter child sexual abuse images or material online, you can make a report:
For other countries, please visit INHOPE’s global hotlines.
 Online Grooming. Childline.org.uk.
 GROOMING AND RED FLAG BEHAVIORS. Darkness To Light.
 EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT ONLINE GROOMING. Innocent Lives Foundation.
 What is Grooming? Signs to Look for With Sexual Predators. Bark.us. 2015-01-03.
 Online grooming: What it is, how it happens, and how to defend children. Thorn. 2020-06-15