Online grooming is when a predator forms a trusting relationship with a victim through online communication, with the purpose of preparing the victim for sexual abuse in the future. Predators take advantage of the Internet or mobile phones as an easy way to meet and maintain contact with potential victims, usually targeting children and young people. Child grooming may also be used to attract minors to criminal activity such as child pornography.
How does online grooming happen?
Online predators often use social networks to meet young people, often using fake profiles and posing as a child or teenager themselves. They gain the child’s trust by getting to know their needs and fulfilling them through gifts, personal attention and affection. The predator will gradually sexualize the relationship by discussing adult issues and sending explicit photos or videos. They will eventually make arrangements to meet in person and engage in physical contact beginning with hugging, touching or kissing. Often, underage victims don’t realise they’ve been groomed because they believe that person is their boyfriend or girlfriend.
Are there any signs of online grooming?
There are signs, but most of them are quite common among teenagers:
- Spending too much time online and being secretive about who they are chatting with
- They might hide their computer screen or mobile phone when you are near
- They might receive gifts from someone you don’t know
- They might become unusually quiet and distant from family and friends
- You might also find sexually explicit material on your child’s computer or mobile phone
What can you do?
- Stay involved in your child’s online activities and pay attention to how they communicate online. Keep in mind that many online games and apps also have chat features.
- Talk to your child about social networking safety and online grooming. Make sure they understand that it’s easy for someone to pretend to be someone else online.
- Explain why your child should never meet online friends in person.
- Be approachable so your child would be comfortable coming to you for help.