Detecting online grooming at its earliest stages: development and validation of the Online Grooming Risk Scale

Paola Pasca, Fulvio Signore, Caterina Tralci, Delia Del Gottardo, Mariano Longo, Gianpasquale Preite, Enrico Ciavolino


Backgrounds: Among the problematic online behaviours, online grooming, that is, a manipulative process leading to sexual solicitation between an adult and a minor, is receiving increasing attention. However, most of the studies come from qualitative data, confirming that a formalized measurement tool is still missing. Moreover, online grooming measurement mostly relies on its latest, advanced stages, when the abuse and the actual exchange of sexual material has already occurred and reported to the authorities. The aim of the present study is to develop and validate a measurement instrument grasping the earlier stages of the phenomenon.

Methods: The psychometric properties of the Online Grooming Risk (henceforth, OGR) scale were assessed in a validation study conducted on 316 adolescents, and its location within a network of psychological constructs relevant to the literature was examined with a non-parametric approach, the Structural Equation Modeling based on Partial Least Squares.

Results: Results confirmed reliability and validity of the OGR scale. Moreover, its association with both protective (e.g., a good family support) and risk antecedents (e.g., low self-esteem), as well as with the development of clearly sexualized references, seems also confirmed.

Conclusions: The OGR tool configures itself as a useful resource in perspective of an early detection of online grooming. The study also highlights the protective role of family support and low self-esteem as a significant risk factor.


Online grooming; Scale development; PLS-SEM; Family support; Self-esteem; Adolescents.

Full Text:



Berliner, L. (2018). The concept of grooming and how it can help victims. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 33(1), 24-27.

Berson, I. R. (2003). Grooming cybervictims: The psychosocial effects of online exploitation for youth. Journal of School Violence, 2(1), 5-18.

Boyce, P., & Parker, G. (1989). Development of a scale to measure interpersonal sensitivity. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 23(3), 341-351.

Boyd, R. L., Pasca, P., & Lanning, K. (2020). The personality panorama: conceptualizing personality through big behavioural data. European Journal of Personality, 34(5):599-612.

Braiker, H. B. (2004). Who's pulling your strings. McGraw Hill.

Calvete, E., Cortazar, N., Fernández-González, L., Echezarraga, A., Beranuy, M., León, A., González-Cabrera, J., & Orue, I. (2021). Effects of a brief preventive intervention in cyberbullying and grooming in adolescents. Psychosocial Intervention, 30(2), 75 - 84.

Çam, E. & Isbulan, O. (2012). A new addiction for teacher candidates: Social networks. TOJET: The Turkish Online Journal of Educational Technology, 11(3). ISSN-1303-6521.

Carpita, M., Ciavolino, E., & Pasca, P. (2020). Players’ Role-Based Performance Composite Indicators of Soccer Teams: A Statistical Perspective. Social Indicators Research, 1-16.

Cheah, J. H., Ting, H., Ramayah, T., Memon, M. A., Cham, T. H., & Ciavolino, E. (2019). A comparison of five reflective–formative estimation approaches: reconsideration and recommendations for tourism research. Quality & Quantity, 53(3), 1421-1458.

Ciavolino, E., & Nitti, M. (2010). High-order constructs for the structural equation model. [Paper presentation]. DYSES 2010 - V Meeting on Dynamics of Social and Economic System. University of Sannio (Italy).

Ciavolino, E., & Nitti, M. (2013a). Using the hybrid two-step estimation approach for the identification of second-order latent variable models. Journal of Applied Statistics, 40(3), 508-526.

Ciavolino, E., & Nitti, M. (2013b). Simulation study for PLS path modelling with high-order construct: A job satisfaction model evidence. In Advanced Dynamic Modeling of Economic and Social Systems (pp. 185-207). Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.

Craven, S., Brown, S., & Gilchrist, E. (2006). Sexual grooming of children: Review of literature and theoretical considerations. Journal of Sexual Aggression, 12(3), 287-299.

Davidson J., Bifulco A., Pham T. H., Tompkins, C. N. E. (2012). The European Online Grooming Project, retrieved from in date 05/05/2021.

De Santisteban, P., Del Hoyo, J., Alcázar-Córcoles, M. Á., & Gámez-Guadix, M. (2018). Progression, maintenance, and feedback of online child sexual grooming: A qualitative analysis of online predators. Child Abuse & Neglect, 80, 203-215.

Dorasamy, M., Jambulingam, M., & Vigian, T. (2018). Building a bright society with au courant parents: combating online grooming. Proceedings of the 22nd Pacific Asia Conference on Information Systems (PACIS 2018). Yokohama, Japan.

Fu, D., Hase, A., Goolamallee, M., Godwin, G., & Freeman, P. (2020). The effects of support (in) adequacy on self-confidence and performance: Two experimental studies. Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology, 10(1), 15–26.

Gámez-Guadix, M., Orue, I., Smith, P.K., & Calvete, E. (2013). Longitudinal and reciprocal relations of cyberbullying with depression, substance use, and problematic Internet use among adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Health, 53(4), 446-452.

Gámez-Guadix, M., Almendros, C., Calvete, E., & De Santisteban, P. (2018). Persuasion strategies and sexual solicitations and interactions in online sexual grooming of adolescents: Modeling direct and indirect pathways. Journal of Adolescence, 63, 11-18.

García Mendoza, M. D. C., Sánchez Queija, I., & Parra Jiménez, Á. (2019). The role of parents in emerging adults’ psychological well‐being: A person‐oriented approach. Family process, 58(4), 954-971.

Gross, E. F. (2009). Logging on, bouncing back: An experimental investigation of online communication following social exclusion. Developmental Psychology, 45(6), 1787–1793.

Hair Jr, J. F., Hult, G. T. M., Ringle, C., & Sarstedt, M. (2016). A primer on partial least squares structural equation modeling (PLS-SEM). SAGE publications. ISSN: 0955-534X

Hair Jr, J. F., Ringle, C., Sarstedt, M., & Gudergan, S. P. (2017). Advanced issues in partial least square structural equation modeling. SAGE publications. ISBN: 9781483377391

Henseler, J., Ringle, C. M., & Sarstedt, M. (2015). A new criterion for assessing discriminant validity in variance-based structural equation modeling. Journal of the academy of marketing science, 43(1), 115-135.

Ioannou, M., Synnott, J., Reynolds, A., & Pearson, J. (2018). A comparison of online and offline grooming characteristics: An application of the victim roles model. Computers in Human Behavior, 85, 291-297.

ISTAT (2016). I bambini e i ragazzi in rete. Rischi e opportunità in Italia, retrieved from date 30/04/2021

Jöreskog, K. G., & Wold, H., (1982). The ML and PLS techniques for modeling with latent variables: historical and comparative aspects. In: Jöreskog, K.G. and Wold, H. (Eds.) Systems under Indirect Observation: Causality, Structure, Prediction, Part I. Elsevier, Amsterdam, 263-270. ISBN 044486301X

Choo, K. K. R. (2009). Responding to online child grooming: an industry perspective. Trends & Issues in crime and criminal justice. 379. 1-6. ISSN 1836-2206

Liu, Q. X., Fang, X. Y., Yan, N., Zhou, Z. K., Yuan, X. J., Lan, J., & Liu, C. Y. (2015). Multi-family group therapy for adolescent Internet addiction: exploring the underlying mechanisms. Addictive Behaviors, 42, 1-8.

Livingstone, S. (2008). Taking risky opportunities in youthful content creation: teenagers’ use of social networking sites for intimacy, privacy and self-expression. New Media & Society, 10(3), 393–411.

Livingstone, S. & Helsper, E.J. (2008). Parental mediation of children’s Internet use. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 52 (4), 581-599.

Livingstone, S., Haddon, L., Görzig, A., & Ólafsson (2011). Risks and safety on the Internet: the perspective of European children: EU Kids Online.

Macchitella, L., Marinelli, C. V., Signore, F., Ciavolino, E., & Angelelli, P. (2020). Sleepiness, neuropsychological skills, and scholastic learning in children. Brain Sciences, 10(8), 529.

Machimbarrena, J. M., Calvete, E., Fernández-González, L., Álvarez-Bardón, A., Álvarez-Fernández, L., & González-Cabrera, J. (2018). Internet risks: an overview of victimization in cyberbullying, cyber dating abuse, sexting, online grooming and problematic Internet use. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 15(11), 2471.

McAfee (2012). The Digital Divide: How the on-line behaviour of teens is getting past parents, retrieved from date 10/05/2021

Mishna, F., McLuckie, A., & Saini, M. (2009). Real-world dangers in an online reality: a qualitative study examining online relationships and cyber abuse. Social Work Research, 33(2), 107-118.

O’ Connell R. (2003). A Typology of Child Cybersexploitation and Online Grooming Practices. University of Central Lancashire.

Ospina M., Harstall C., & Dennett L. (2010). Sexual exploitation of children and youth over the Internet: a rapid review of the scientific literature. Institute of health economics. Canada.

Palmer, T., & Stacey, L. (2004). Just one click - sexual abuse of children and young people through the Internet and mobile phone technology. Child Abuse Review, 14, 447– 451.

Peris, M., & Maganto, C. (2018). Sexting, sextorsión y grooming: identificación y prevención [Sexting, sextorsion and grooming: Identification and prevention]. Madrid: Pirámide. I.S.B.N.: 978-84-368-3967-8

Pettit, G. S., Laird, R. D., Dodge, K. A., Bates, J. E., & Criss, M. M. (2001). Antecedents and behavior‐ problem outcomes of parental monitoring and psychological control in early adolescence. Child Development, 72(2), 583-598.

Prezza, M., Trombaccia, F. R., & Armento, L. (1997). La scala dell'autostima di Rosenberg: traduzione e validazione Italiana. Giunti Organizzazioni Speciali.

Ringle, M.C., Wende, S., & Becker J. M. (2015). Smartpls 3.0 (software). Boenningst-edt: SmartPLS GmbH.

Rosen, L. D., Cheever, N. A., & Carrier, L. M. (2008). The association of parenting style and child age with parental limit setting and adolescent MySpace behavior. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 29(6), 459-471.

Rosenberg, M. (1965). Rosenberg self-esteem scale (RSE). Acceptance and commitment therapy. Measures package, 61(52).

Salter, A. (1995). Transforming trauma: A guide to understanding and treating adult survivors of child sexual abuse. Sage Publications.

Schoeps, K., Peris Hernández, M., Garaigordobil, M., & Montoya Castilla, I. (2020). Risk factors for being a victim of online grooming in adolescents. Psicothema, (31)4, 1-9.

Signore, F., Catalano, A., De Carlo, E., Madaro, A., & Ingusci, E. (2019). The role of employability in students during academic experience: a preliminary study through PLS-PM technique. Electronic Journal of Applied Statistical Analysis, 12(4), 720-747.

Signore , F., Cortese, C. G., Parisi, S., Russo, V., Zito, M., & Ingusci, E. (2020). Job crafting and well-being at work: an exploratory analysis during health emergency period. La Medicina Del Lavoro | Work, Environment and Health, 111(6), 478–492.

SOS Telefono Azzurro ONLUS (2019). Dossier on Sexual Abuse and Pedophilia.

Temple, J. R., Le, V. D., Van den Berg, P., Ling, Y., Paul, J. A., & Temple, B. W. (2014). Brief report: Teen sexting and psychosocial health. Journal of Adolescence, 37(1), 33–36.

Valcke, M., Bonte, S., De Wever, B., & Rots, I. (2010). Internet parenting styles and the impact on Internet use of primary school children. Computers & Education, 55(2), 454-464.

Valkenburg, P. M., & Peter, J. (2007). Preadolescents' and adolescents' online communication and their closeness to friends. Developmental Psychology, 43(2), 267-277.

Van Geel, M., Vedder, P., & Tanilon, J. (2014). Relationship between peer victimization, cyberbullying, and suicide in children and adolescents: a meta-analysis. JAMA pediatrics, 168(5), 435-442.

Vigneau, E., & Qannari, E. M. (2003). Clustering of variables around latent components. Communications in Statistics-Simulation and Computation, 32(4), 1131-1150.

Ybarra, M. L., & Mitchell, K. J. (2004). Youth engaging in online harassment: Associations with caregiver–child relationships, Internet use, and personal characteristics. Journal of Adolescence, 27(3), 319-336.

Ybarra, M. L., & Mitchell, K. J. (2008). How risky are social networking sites? A comparison of places online where youth sexual solicitation and harassment occurs. Pediatrics, 121(2), e350-e357.

Wachs, S., Jiskrova, G. K., Vazsonyi, A. T., Wolf, K. D., & Junger, M. (2016). A cross-national study of direct and indirect effects of cyberbullying on cybergrooming victimization via self-esteem. Psicologia educativa, 22(1), 61-70.

Wang, R., Bianchi, S. M., & Raley, S. B. (2005). Teenagers’ Internet use and family rules: A research note. Journal of Marriage and Family, 67 (5), 1249-1258.

Whittle, H., Hamilton-Giachritsis, C., Beech, A., & Collings, G. (2013a). A review of young people's vulnerabilities to online grooming. Aggression and violent behavior, 18(1), 135-146.

Whittle, H., Hamilton-Giachritsis, C., Beech, A., & Collings, G. (2013b). A review of online grooming: Characteristics and concerns. Aggression and violent behavior, 18(1), 62-70.

Whittle, H. C., Hamilton-Giachritsis, C., & Beech, A. R. (2013c). Victims’ voices: The impact of online grooming and sexual abuse. Universal Journal of Psychology, 1(2), 59-71.

Whittle, H. C., Hamilton-Giachritsis, C. E., & Beech, A. R. (2014). In their own words: Young peoples’ vulnerabilities to being groomed and sexually abused online. Psychology, 5(10), 1185–1196.

Wolak, J., Mitchell, K. J., & Finkelhor, D. (2003). Escaping or connecting? Characteristics of youth who form close online relationships. Journal of adolescence, 26(1), 105-119.

Wold, H. (1966). Estimation of principal components and related models by iterative least squares. In P.R. Krishnaiaah (Ed.). Multivariate Analysis. 391-420. New York: Academic Press.

Wold, H. (1975). Path models with latent variables: The NIPALS approach. In Quantitative sociology, 307-357). Elsevier.

Wold, H. (1985). Partial Least Squares. In S. Kotz, H. L. Johnson, & C. B. Read (Eds.), Encyclopedia of statistical sciences. New York: John Wiley.

Wood, A. C., & Wheatcroft, J. M. (2020). Young adult perceptions of Internet communications and the grooming concept. SAGE Open, 10(1), 2158244020914573.

Zimet, G. D., Dahlem, N. W., Zimet, S. G., & Farley, G. K. (1988). The multidimensional scale of perceived social support. Journal of personality assessment, 52(1), 30-41.



  • There are currently no refbacks.