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Recognizing Abuse Masquerading as Love: Grooming, SG-CSAM, and Sextortion

February 13, 2024

4 Minute Read


The month of February is often associated with Valentine’s Day and expressions of love. At Thorn, we understand how perpetrators deliberately emotionally manipulate and misrepresent “love” to abuse their victims– often without them even knowing it.

Some online relationships may seem like “love” at the beginning, but they are actually grooming. They can also start out as friendships before devolving into something toxic.

Picture it like a continuum of abuse. Perpetrators often groom minors for the purpose of obtaining nude photos or videos, and then can use those nudes to sextort or blackmail victims into an action they do not want to do.

Let’s break down each term in more detail and how you can help your child navigate these risky situations online.


Grooming is a term used broadly to describe the tactics abusers deploy to sexually exploit children. It can happen quickly or over time, but at its core it’s a process of exploiting trust to shift expectations of what safe behavior is and leveraging fear and shame to keep a child silent.

Thorn for Parents has a great discussion guide with tips like these:

  • Have an open dialogue and talk to your child about what it means to trust someone.
  • Proactively teach your child how to recognize red flags and what to do if someone is weird or mean to them online.
  • Create a safe space and make sure your child knows they can always come to you.

NoFiltr has a resource page for youth to learn more about grooming including:

  • Tips for how to navigate grooming at it’s various stages
  • Youth-submitted advice to normalize practicing safe digital relationships

Sending Nudes and SG-CSAM

What we colloquially call “nudes” or “naked selfies” are more properly known as self-generated child sexual abuse material (SG-CSAM) when they have been taken by the minor in the material. This is part of shifting norms in relationships for today’s youth. Our research shows that a notable 69% of minors who have shared their own SG-CSAM did so within offline romantic relationships. Understanding this context is essential to having supportive conversations with youth who have been harmed in online sexual interactions.

A groomer may coerce a kid into sending them nudes by preying on their emotions or by threatening them. Even former romantic partners may betray trust and send what was once consensually-shared material to their friends in an effort to shame, humiliate, or retaliate against the victim since the relationship ended.

Our research shows that fewer than 1 in 3 parents have talked to their children about sharing SG-CSAM – and that parents are unsurprisingly hesitant to specifically discuss this difficult topic with their kids. This is in contrast to an increasing desire among youth to seek offline support after experiencing online sexual interactions. In our annual report, Youth Perspectives on Online Safety 2022, we found that the minors who had an online sexual interaction were more likely to seek offline support than they were in previous years.

Thorn for Parents has a helpful resource to begin the dialogue:

  • Talk to your child without judgment through conversations centered around trust, consent, and what to do if someone asks for a photo of them.
  • Keep your kids, and others, safe by encouraging them not to participate in this behavior, and to call it out or tell a trusted adult when they see it.

NoFiltr has a helpful resource for youth to:

  • Learn how to navigate being pressured to send nudes.
  • Practice self-love while engaging in online relationships.


Sextortion is when someone blackmails or threatens to expose sexual imagery in order to make a person do something they don’t want to do, like send more photos or send money.

Grooming is often a tactic used by a perpetrator who is planning to carry out sextortion. Once the perpetrator has convinced a young person to send them SG-CSAM, they rely on shame and isolation in order to maintain control, threatening to expose compromising photos and/or send money.

If you or someone you know is being threatened online, know you are not alone, and there is hope to get to the other side.

Thorn is here to help educate on ever-changing terminology. While this is just a primer on recognizing predatory behaviors in relationships and online, you can find even more resources and age-appropriate discussion guides at Thorn for Parents.

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