What Parents Should Know About Online Grooming and Exploitation
Parents should be aware of the dangers that exist online. It’s fundamental to ensure that your children are safe when they browse the Internet, use online gaming or interact on social media. Online child sex offenders often log into chat rooms, social networking services, and gaming sites in order to gain contact with children. The prevalence rate of online grooming and exploitation is worrying so parents should take steps in order to keep your children safe from harm when they are online.
What is Online Grooming and Exploitation?
Online grooming is when a person uses the internet to get close to children or a vulnerable person and gain their trust. That person will try to form relationships with the child and pretend to be their friend. But in reality, that person may have a more dangerous agenda that may involve using the child for financial or sexual gain or political, extremist exploitation. That may involve engaging in illegal sexual activity with the child or allowing other adults engage in the abuse.
It’s a harsh, frightening reality but it happens and it’s happening to many children across the world at this very moment. However, grooming and exploitation can also take place in the real world away from the internet. It has been linked to grooming young girls for sexual activity in gangs and political and religious radicalisation. Extremists political groups can groom young men to fight in war zones and lure young girls with the promise of a good looking husband and home comforts, away from parent’s rules and regulations.
According to the NSPCC, “Grooming is when someone builds an emotional connection with a child to gain their trust for the purposes of sexual abuse or exploitation. Children and young people can be groomed online or in the real world, by a stranger or by someone they know – for example, a family member, friend or professional.”
It is easy for someone to be anyone and create a false persona on the internet. Using fake pictures with children or cute animals or a young good looking teenager are tactics often used. Young people can end up befriending people who they think they know but really they don’t. Some groomers offer modelling jobs so that kids, especially young girls, might send in their photos and videos to build a portfolio.
However, once the groomer gets the young person’s trust, the conversation could become sexual or politically extremist in nature, maybe referring to political grievances. The person might even ask the child to send sexual photos or videos. The predator may go on to use the videos or pictures to blackmail the child.
There are some instances in which groomers are not total strangers. There are cases in which children have met groomers through social activities or families. The predator may use the internet to develop a rapport with the young person. Often the young person doesn’t even realise that they are being groomed and believes that the groomer is their best friend, special confidant, girlfriend or boyfriend.
Groomers often have a lot of patience and tend to work several potential targets at the same time. They look for young people who are looking for sympathy, validation or support online.
Where does Online Grooming and Exploitation Happen?
More often than not, groomers use a social media network that’s popular among young people. They would add their potential targets as friends on Facebook or follow their Twitter account. They often use fake accounts that have fake photos. That way they can pretend to be one of their peers. They will also pretend to have the same interests and build a rapport.
Groomers will text and use other popular messaging services with their target to gain their trust. With the mobile video call features of apps, children open themselves even more to groomers. They may ask the young person to undress on camera. Groomers would claim that their webcam is broken so that they don’t show their face to their victims.
There are cases in which online groomers suggests to their victim to meet them in person. The child thinks that they are meeting a friend.
How does Online Grooming and Exploitation Affect Young People?
It’s important for parents to spot the signs and identify early if their child is a victim of online grooming even before it becomes a serious issue. One indicator of online grooming is when your child is secretive about his/her online activities. Your child is also spending more time online than before. Your child will also go to places to meet up with friends that you haven’t seen before. In worse case scenarios, your child starts taking alcohol or drugs.
If you see any of the indicators, it is important to talk with your child right away and contact support agencies such as Child Net or NSPCC and/or the police. If the police are not responsive ask if there are any internet safety experts in your local police force and contact them directly or via social media. If the operator is not responsive insist or ask to speak to your neighbourhood policing team which you can find on police.uk. That way you will be able to prevent problems, as well as protect your child and other children from further harm.
What Can Parents Do?
Online grooming and exploitation can be prevented if parents have taken steps to educate their child about safety while online. Privacy can be an issue with older children, but there are still some things that can be done to reduce the risks of online grooming.
As a parent, you should know what your child is doing on the internet. There is tracking software that can monitor what they are doing online. Desktop or laptop should be placed in public areas of the home.
You should also have a talk with your child about online grooming practices. Many children don’t understand the full extent of the risk or chose to ignore the dangers and that’s why they could become victims of predators. You should tell them not to provide personal information to people they only met online.
Another thing that you can do as parents is to monitor your child’s financial transactions and phone usage. If there are texts and calls from unknown numbers or if your child is sending money to a stranger, then you might need to step in and address the problem right away.
You should also watch for changes to one’s behaviours. Don’t dismiss the changes as part of growing up. More often than not, the changes might not be caused by online grooming, but at least, you get to talk to your child and find out what’s bothering him/her.
Keeping your children safe while on the internet can be a tedious and challenging task. The internet is a good learning tool but it can also bring dangers when misused. Online grooming and exploitation are threats to the safety of your precious child, and that’s why you should know what it is and how to determine the signs. That way you will be able to stop online grooming before it is too late.
Recommended organisations parents can consult (click on the links below):
The Dangers Of Social Media (Child Predator Social Experiment) Girl Edition
Find books on Amazon
Author: Asian Mums Network blogger