What is ‘Grooming’?
Grooming is a word that refers to the process some people use to win the trust of children and youths with the intention of sexually abusing them.
Grooming can take place anywhere in the real world, but it is especially prevalent on the internet with the flourishing of chat rooms and social networks.
Grooming is a criminal offence, one that is largely underreported and notoriously difficult to trace and be investigated by the authorities due to the anonymity afforded by the internet.
People who groom youngsters often use tactics to hide their true identity — usually by pretending they’re of the same age as their victim and setting up fake profiles — to make it easier for them to befriend a child.
How does it happen?
The process of grooming a child can begin in a very harmless manner.
The groomer would usually pose as another child and convinces the victim to reveal basic information about himself or herself such as gender and age.
As the relationship continues, the groomer attempts to win the trust and confidence of the child by sharing deeper and more intimate information. They try to establish their relationship as ‘something special’. The only goal behind this is to make some kind of sexual contact, either physically or online.
Once the groomer feels ‘safe’ enough with the child, they will persuade their victims into meeting them face-to-face or else expose themselves in a sexual manner via webcam or by sharing photos.
The internet has unfortunately made it easier for offenders to groom children. It is easy to establish contact with a child under a false identity online and trick them into revealing personal information.
The lack of physical contact online might lead the child to have a false sense of security when communicating with a total stranger. Young people may feel bolder and more ready to act in a ‘grown up’ way when sitting in front of their computer screen. This sense of invulnerability is very misleading. Groomers leverage it to encourage their victims to reveal more about themselves.
Online grooming is faster and more anonymous than in the real world. It isn’t any less dangerous. It is easier to find victims online on chat rooms and by searching through social network profiles. The internet gives groomers direct access to their victims and they can spend more time interacting with them
Groomers generally pretend to be younger and often change their gender to make the victims believe they’re talking to someone just like them. Many give a false physical description of themselves and some even send pictures of other children to further convince their victim that they are who they claim to be.
When establishing a relationship with children, groomers try to find out as much as they can about their victims. Once a certain level of confidence is reached, groomers will try to isolate their victims and start using tactics like flattery, flirting, promises of gifts, intimidation and outright threats in order to control them.
What To Look Out For
A groomer will use all the information s/he learns about the child to create a bond of friendship.
To achieve this they are ready to go to any lengths, and the tactics groomers rely on include:
- The young person’s desire for romance, adventure and sexual information. By exploiting children’s natural curiosity, they seek to establish themselves as ‘experts’ who the child will come to trust and go to to learn more about ‘adult’ things.
- Groomers will aim to develop trust and secrecy between them and their victims. By listening and sympathising with children’s problems and insecurities they encourage their victims to seek them for reassurance out of their own will. This is often used to alienate the children from their caregivers and sometimes even drive a wedge between children and their parents.
- Online child predators will groom the youngster by flattering the child excessively and boosting their self-esteem whenever the child reveals an area of insecurity.
- Groomers might also send gifts and invest time, money and energy to make the child feel special and dependent on them. The relation starts turning sexual when the groomer begins introducing sex into their conversations or exposing them to pornography.
- At an advanced stage, groomers will often intimidate and threaten their victims to force them to remain silent about their relationship. They may also use child pornography featuring their victims to blackmail them into staying silent.
Protecting Your Children
Teaching your children to stay safe while online is essential to prevent instances of grooming.
You should discuss with your children basic online safety rules like: being careful not to give out personal information to strangers online such as name, age and address, and that they shouldn’t accept email, messages or files from people they do not know.
Meeting someone who you’ve only been in contact online can be dangerous. Children should avoid meeting up with people they got to know online alon and an adult should accompany them the first time if they plan to do so.
Children need also to be taught never to share an image or do anything on a webcam they wouldn’t want their family or friends to see. If someone encourages them to behave appropriately or threatens them, they should be encouraged to tell this to someone they trust and won’t make them feel guilty for doing so. Youngsters shouldn’t be made to feel ashamed when they’re seeking help.
Young children should be supervised when online and the time they spend using their computers limited. To help make your child’s experience of the internet safer you can use a number of software that blocks out and filters appropriate content.
The list below includes some of the most popular free online software that lets your children browse the internet more safely:
- Norton Online Family: This free software lets you monitor the websites your children visit as well as what they search for online and who they chat with. You can also monitor their social networking activities and set the program to send you an email with a report on your child’s online activities.
- Windows Live Family Safety: Microsoft’s free parental controls software is included in the Windows Live Essentials package. You can use it to block specific sites and applications as well as controlling how long kids can use a computer.
- K9 Web Protection: K9 Web Protection is a free Internet filter and parental control software for your home Windows or Mac computer. It blocks access to many websites and forces SafeSearch on all major search engines. You can also set time restrictions to block web access during certain times.