Children put themselves at great risk by communicating online with individuals they do not know in person. Internet predators intentionally access sites that children visit and can even search for potential victims by location or interest.
If a predator is already communicating with a child, he or she can piece together clues from what the child mentions while online, including parents’ names, where the child goes to school, and how far away the child lives from a certain landmark, store, or other location.
Online grooming is a process which can take place in a short time or over an extended period of time. Initial conversations online can appear innocent, but often involve some level of deception. As the predator (usually an adult) attempts to establish a relationship to gain a child’s trust, he may initially lie about his age or may never reveal his real age to the child, even after forming an established online relationship. Often, the groomer will know popular music artists, clothing trends, sports team information, or another activity or hobby the child may be interested in, and will try to relate to the child.
These tactics lead children to believe that no one else can understand them or their situation like the groomer. After the child’s trust develops, the groomer may use sexually explicit conversations to test boundaries and exploit a child’s natural curiosity about sex. Predators often use pornography and child pornography to lower a child’s inhibitions and use their adult status to influence and control a child’s behavior.
They also flatter and compliment the child excessively and manipulate a child’s trust by relating to emotions and insecurities and affirming the child’s feelings and choices.
The FBI has identified several trends in which sexual predators are using “group grooming” tactics to target and groom children for sexual exploitation.
The FBI has identified instances where online predators worked together in groups to target children as potential victims. They use “group grooming” tactics to expose children to explicit content and assess their openness to sexual exploitation.
In some instances, groups of online predators pose as children, meet in social media groups and gaming clans geared toward children, and use each other to condone and normalize the exchange of sexually explicit materials within the group. Children who join the games, chats, or online groups are unaware that they are engaging with adult online predators, and instead believe they are meeting with a group of their peers.
Addtional Resource: Online Grooming of Children for Sexual Purposes: Model Legislation & Global Review (International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children 2017)