Children and Grooming / Online Predators

There are a variety of dangers lurking online that affect minors in a number of different ways. The Internet has expanded the way that young people communicate and interact with their peers. Young people use popular social media sites to stay in touch with their friends and to meet new people. Even on websites geared towards children and young adults, there are often adult online predators who look to interact with children. In the most serious cases, this can lead to real life encounters.

Statistics About Grooming and Online Predators

There are an estimated 500,000 online predators active each day. Children between the ages of 12 and 15 are especially susceptible to be groomed or manipulated by adults they meet online. According to the F.B.I., over 50 percent of the victims of online sexual exploitation are between the ages of 12 and 15. An estimated 89 percent of sexual advances directed at children occur in Internet chatrooms or through instant messaging. In over a quarter of all reported exploitation incidents, the online predator will ask a child for sexually explicit photos of themselves. Four percent of children receive aggressive solicitations from adults online, including attempts to contact the children in person or over the phone. In addition, 58 percent of parents report being concerned about the threats that strangers pose online. Two out of ten children between the ages of 8 and 11 are aware of the issue and are concerned that strangers may find out information about them. And while using social media, forty percent of children remove privacy settings in order to attract more friends or followers.

How Do Online Predators Operate?

Adult predators looking to groom children online often visit social media websites that are popular with young people and will pretend to be their age. The adult may try to secure their trust with fake profile pictures, by pretending to share similar interests, by offering gifts to the child or by complimenting the child.

Once an online relationship has been established, the groomer will often steer the conversation towards sex. The child may be pressured to take explicit photos or videos of themselves and send them to the groomer. In the most extreme cases, the groomer will pressure the child to meet in person and may even fly in to meet the child. The groomer may blackmail the child by threatening to release the private photos or videos and share them with the child’s friends or family.

While adults who groom children online are often strangers, this is not always the case. In many circumstances, the child may have met a groomer through family or other connections and the adult builds a relationship with the child online. The child may not even realize that he or she is being groomed and may consider the groomer to be a boyfriend or girlfriend.

Signs that a Child is Being Groomed Online

Online grooming may be difficult to detect because it often occurs while a child is home and simply using the computer. Groomers often order children not to talk about their conduct. However, there may be signs that a child is being groomed by an online predator, including spending an increasing amount of time online, becoming secretive about their online conduct, switching screens or closing tabs or windows whenever a parent is close, using sexual language they would not be expected to know and becoming emotionally volatile.

Legal Consequences for Online Predators

Many states have laws preventing adults from “corrupting” minors or engaging in sexually explicit conversations with those under the age of 18. In addition, it is illegal to send pornographic to minors or to encourage and pressure minors to send explicit photographs or videos of themselves. Adults who are convicted of this type of conduct can be sentenced to prison and may be required to register as a sex offender as a result of the conviction.