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?
Predators often use social networks to meet young people, often posing as a child or teenager themselves, using fake profile pictures. They gain the victim’s trust by getting to know their needs and how to fulfil them, through gifts, personal attention and affection. The predator will gradually sexualize the relationship through conversation, photos or videos, and will make arrangements to meet with them in person. They will also discuss adult issues with them and engage in physical contact like hugging, touching or kissing. Often victims will not realise they have 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, especially late at night, and being secretive about who they are chatting with.
- They might hide their computer screen or mobile phone when you are near
- They might have received 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
Keep your children safe from online grooming
- Stay involved with your kids’ online activities, and pay attention to how they are communicating online. Keep in mind that some online games and apps also have chat features.
- Talk to your children about social networking safety and online grooming. Help them understand that it’s easy for someone to pretend to be someone else online.
- Explain to them why they should never meet online friends in person.
- Be approachable so that your child would be comfortable coming to you for help.