Protecting yourself from abuse online

Online grooming

What is it?

Online grooming is when an adult makes online contact with someone under the age of 16 with the intention of establishing a sexual relationship.

The offence occurs in the communication phase so no physical contact needs to occur for police to be involved.

Carly’s Law was introduced in 2017 and makes it a crime for an adult to use a carriage service to commit an act in preparation for, or planning to, cause harm to or engage in or procure sexual activity with a minor. Importantly, this will include people who misrepresent their age.

People who groom children and young people online may pretend to be another young person, while others are upfront and may manipulate them into thinking their relationship is okay.

In some cases an offender might start to build a gradual friendship and then introduce sexual concepts or they might raise requests for sexualised content including images or videos.

Many offenders are very good at manipulating children and young people and may be inappropriately communicating with many different young people at the same time.

And it doesn’t just occur on social media platforms.

The rise of apps with direct message or ‘chat’ functions means that anyone, anywhere can start up a conversation. 

Many apps don’t require identification to sign in so people can use fake names or ages to start an account – not everyone online is who they say they are.

Some apps are even designed to find people close by.

Check out our resources page for factsheets on the most popular apps and our protecting your accounts page for privacy information.

What can I do?

Here are our tips that can help with safer online interactions:

  • We encourage children and young people to avoid talking to people online they don’t know offline.
  • Ensure that contacts are people your child has met in real life, trust and are safe to communicate with on a regular basis.
  • It is important young people understand what information isn’t okay to share with people online.
  • Make children feel comfortable to approach you when something feels off and deal with the issue, rather than the technology.
  • Nothing in life is free – warn your child about accepting gifts from people they don’t know.
  • Parents and carers also need to be mindful that they themselves could be targeted by online predators through social media or other online interactions to get access to their child.
  • Report any suspicious behaviour.

If you suspect online grooming …

Trust your instincts. If you are concerned about the possibility your child, or you know of a child, who is at risk from sexual abuse, report it.

It is never too late to report suspicions of online grooming, and the sooner it is identified, the less harm may occur. Find out more about how to report.

Consider seeking further support from counselling services.

Be aware of how to block and report on the games, apps and sites your child is using so that you can take quick action if someone makes them uncomfortable online.

Online child exploitation

Research indicates that more and more child exploitation material is being shared via social media, and is being produced by children themselves.

Young people might think it’s OK to share images of themselves– but they don’t realise that this image could end up anywhere.

What is it?

Child exploitation material can be any material that shows someone under the age of 18 in sexual activity or posed in a sexualised way. 

The online child exploitation process includes accessing, sending or uploading this material online. Online grooming can also be involved in this process.

Sometimes young people might search for pornography of people their own age. This material is illegal. It doesn’t matter how old you are, you can still be charged with producing, possessing or distributing it.

What can I do?

It is important to educate young people on how to recognise inappropriate or suspicious behaviour online, such as requests for sexualised material.

Viewing child exploitation material is not only illegal; it can have harmful psychological and emotional consequences.

Research shows that sexualised images and exposure to pornography shape young people’s notions of gender, sexual expectations and practices. 

For this reason, we strongly encourage you to talk to young people about respectful relationships and direct them to ethical sources of information about sex and relationships. Visit our support page for more information.

Read more about inappropriate content on our safe searching page.

Top tips!

  • Avoid inappropriate interactions or sexual requests online by blocking or reporting users
  • Discuss ethical sexual relationships and appropriate online interactions with your child
  • Reiterate that pornography does not replicate or promote healthy sexual relationships
  • Be open to your child coming to you for help if someone online makes them feel uncomfortable
  • Know what content your children might be accessing online
  • You might consider filtering or other parental controls for your devices
  • If you come across content that is inappropriate or illegal report it

If you have seen something online that makes you or your child uncomfortable  – think about contacting support or counselling services

Personal image sharing (sexting)

Once you hit ‘send’, you never know where your personal images might end up.

Read on to find out more about personal image sharing (sexting).

What is it?

Personal image sharing or ‘sexting’ is the creating, sharing, sending or posting of sexually explicit messages or images via the internet, mobile phones or other electronic devices.

Other terms used to describe sexting include sending pics or nudes.

Young people may engage in this behaviour for various reasons including intimacy with their partner, in the hope to gain a partner, the belief that it is the ‘norm’ in young relationships gained from seeing other young people to do it, the media, or through exposure to pornography.

Ghost, decoy or vault apps can be used to hide images on smartphones. Popular choices include the Secret Calculator, Hide It Pro and NQ Vault.

There is also a trend toward apps for sharing ‘erasable’ media, where young people send images believing that they ‘disappear’ after a short time (Snapchat is a popular example of this). However, entire deletion cannot be guaranteed.

From research conducted, there are varying statistics about the incidence of sharing personal sexual content, meaning results are difficult to quantify. However, they suggest that most sexting behaviour is consensual and that young people don’t believe known consequences affect them.

Why should I be aware?

Once you’ve taken and shared an image, you lose control of who sees it and where it ends up. Not everyone will respect your privacy and keep your photos private.

Relationships can break down over time, so while you might be happy for someone to have your personal image or video today, tomorrow might be a different story.

If you share someone else’s content, you are breaking their trust. If the person is under 18, you might also be committing a crime.

Not only can the sharing of this content impact on relationships, it can also impact on reputation, future career prospects and may involve potential criminal charges (depending on the content – see Online Child Exploitation for more information).

Young people need to be aware of what messages they are sending about themselves that may appeal to online child sex offenders, potentially leaving them at risk of online grooming or unwanted contact.

What to do if you receive an image?

If you receive personal sexual content from someone, you need to respect them because it is not your:

  • Picture – you have no ownership of the photo and no rights to storing, sending or copying it
  • Body – you are not the one in the picture so you are not the one likely to be most hurt
  • Decision what you do with it. It is better not to have these photos at all, but if someone has sent it to you it is most likely because they trust you or because they expect you not to share that image on. By sharing the photo with others, you have violated that trust and are potentially committing a crime.

There are serious legal consequences if content is being shared with the intent to deliberately harm, embarrass or to humiliate someone. This includes threatening to do something with someone’s images which might cause them distress.

If you choose to share someone else's personal content, you could even be registered as a sex offender which has implications for your future, including employment opportunities and the ability to travel overseas.

Need help? Here’s what to do…

Don’t panic!

Nothing is so bad you can’t tell someone - speak to a trusted adult, counsellor or community health services.

Here are some ways you can manage your content:

  • Search for yourself online to find out what your ‘digital shadow’ looks like.
  • If an image of yourself appears on a website or app, and you have not consented to the use of this image, you contact the administrator to seek its removal.
  • Contact the person who has shared the photo or video and ask them to remove it and delete all copies.
  • Keep evidence by taking screenshots and noting the web addresses of the content. You can also use another device to take photos of the content.
  • Google can stop specific pages containing inappropriate images appearing in image search results. This will only help with Google searches. The videos and photos will still be searchable using other search engines such as Yahoo.
  • Make sure webcams are covered when not in use.
  • If you need support, talk to someone you trust or, seek help (Kids Helpline is a great resource).

If you find your child has been creating, sending or receiving sexual content…

The first step is, don’t panic!

  • Talk to your child and try to find out as much about the matter as you can.
  • Use your discretion to manage the issue and avoid judgement and labelling.
  • Research suggests that sexting is a part of building relationships.
  • Encourage open discussions with your child about what content they might be sharing, why they do it or why they would do it.
  • Consider seeking advice from support services or your child’s school.

If you believe the incident is malicious or may be a result of grooming, contact your local police.

What to expect if the police become involved…

Each state and territory police may deal with sexting cases differently.

However, under Commonwealth law, an image of someone under the age of 18 in which they are naked, in a sexualised pose or engaged in a sexual act may be considered child exploitation material.

The taking, sending and receiving of these images may be offences carrying a maximum penalty of 15 years’ imprisonment, even if it is an image of them. 

These laws were designed to deal with adults who offend against children, but some instances of ‘sexting’ may also meet the requirements of these offences. 

Police investigations will generally focus on the incidents of sexting where the image has been spread to external parties for malicious or exploitative reasons.

Image Based Abuse

Imaged based abuse is when intimate, nude or sexual images are shared without the consent of those pictured. This includes real, altered (e.g. photoshopped) and drawn pictures and videos but can also be just the threat of an image being shared.

Image based abuse is also commonly referred to as ‘revenge porn’. Revenge porn is a term commonly used in the media, but it can be misleading as many cases of image based abuse are not about ‘revenge’.

Image base abuse may also include ‘sextortion’.

‘Sextortion’ occurs when someone threatens to share your private images if victims don’t provide images of a sexual nature, sexual favours or money.

You may be targeted by extortionists through social networking sites, dating webcam or adult sites. It might be someone known to you – or it could be stranger.

It’s an evolving issue, so it is difficult to say how common it is in Australia.

However, it has been reported by international law enforcement agencies that there has been a significant increase in sextortion activity against children and young people, typically aged 10 to 17.

There are many complex motivations for committing image based abuse and we must acknowledge that these situations of abuse can be very different and can be committed through various forms of communication, not just social media.

To find out which laws apply within your state or territory visit:

Are you being threatened?

  • If someone is threatening you - talk to a trusted adult, even if you’re embarrassed or think you’ll get into trouble.
  • Paying scammers or extortionists is not encouraged - once you have paid or complied with their demands, nothing stops them from targeting you again.
  • Block their emails and their accounts so they can’t contact you.
  • Consider getting the police involved –they’ll need as much information as possible to track the person down.
  • Save any emails or conversations you might have had with the person.
  • Seek help from support services, such as Kids Helpline.


What we do

We develop resources and advice for parents, carers and educators, children and young people to prevent online child sexual exploitation.

Led by the Australian Federal Police, our program includes:

  • Presentations for schools and community groups
  • Online learning resources
  • Activities to do at home
  • Fact sheets and guides
  • Educators resources


What we don’t do

Our program doesn’t cover:

  • Information about general online safety, including cyberbullying
  • Information about cybercrime

For information about online safety visit the eSafety Commissioner

For information about cybercrime visit ReportCyber

Our partners

ThinkUKnow Australia is a partnership between the Australian Federal Police, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Datacom and Microsoft Australia, and delivered in partnership with all State and Territory police and Neighbourhood Watch Australasia.

© Australian Federal Police

The Australian Federal Police acknowledges the traditional owners and custodians of country throughout Australia and acknowledges their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respect to the people, the cultures and the elders past, present and emerging.