17 March 2014
You’d know if online grooming was happening to your child, or a friend of yours wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t you?
Education is key, and if making sure your loved ones know how to stay safe online can help stop it before it starts. The problem is that by its very nature online grooming is a manipulative tactic. In fact, a third of 9-19 years who went online at least once a week reported receiving unwanted sexual or nasty comments via e-mail, instant messenger, or text. Only 7% of parents thought their child had received comments of this nature.
Essentially, the numbers just don’t add up. Young people we believe to be safe and happy online are not necessarily, and if they don’t tell us, how are we to know?
So what is online grooming?
This is the process which bridges the gap between intent and abuse. It is a way of gaining trust through pretending to be someone’s friend. Often it will also be a way of testing the waters; will this person tell others what is happening or will it be their little secret?
Whilst sometimes the predator might pretend to be younger than they are, the stereotype of the ‘creepy old man’ might not be the case. Online grooming can be carried out by anyone, male or female, old or young. If someone older approaches you, people are more likely to be wary. If it is someone more your own age generally you may be more trusting.
How to spot the signs
Even once the young person realises what is happening and feels highly uncomfortable with their situation, they might find it difficult to talk about, and even harder to stop. Sometimes it takes the right question to be asked to prompt the conversation, but it’s important that you tread carefully and don’t cross the line, because one of the techniques used is to try and isolate the victim from loved ones, and by doing so make sure they don’t have anyone to talk to.
Common traits of those who are being abused (or are being groomed) include spending a lot of time online, especially at night. If there’s something array they might also become increasingly secretive about their online activity.
None of these things mean that the person who you’re concerned about is being abused, but it’s worth being aware of any changes of personality at all. It could be a sign of something more sinister.
It can be really difficult for the victim to see what’s happening at first, so they might not even know they should be talking to someone. Sometimes online grooming can lead to what appears to be a loving relationship and it might feel as if you’re betraying this person by sharing details of what you’re talking about it. These are secret and private conversations and the young person might be embarrassed about what they’ve discussed.
What should you do?
Maintaining a dialogue is really important. It’s hard enough growing up as it is, and there are plenty of things which might upset you which you wouldn’t necessarily want to talk about. Think back to when you were their age – would you have told your parents about everything? Just being there is a hugely important part of supporting your children.
If you get annoyed about little things which your child does they might think that this will be another time when they’ll be told off. If your child comes to you about grooming or abuse which they have experienced, reassure them that they haven’t done anything wrong, and they’re not in trouble. A victim blame culture is never the way to go, and things like “how could you have been so silly” will do more harm than good, and prevent your child from approaching you in future.
For more information on what sexual exploitation and online grooming are, visit our website.