Sometimes it can be hard to tell if someone is a predator online. In the USA the FBI and the United Nations found that there are at least 750,000 predators lurking online at any given moment. Read more to find out what signs to look for if you think you are talking to an online predator or being groomed.
What Is A Definition of A “Predator” And What Is Online “Grooming”?
An online predator is commonly defined as an adult who seeks to exploit vulnerable children or adolescents for sexual or other abusive purposes. The anonymity of the internet provides the perfect camouflage for a predator to operate.
A groomer is someone who makes an emotional connection with someone else to try and make them do sexual things. Groomers hide their true intentions and may spend a substantial amount of time gaining a child’s trust.
Once predators and groomers have gained the child’s trust, they will start to exploit the relationship by attempting to isolate the child from their friends and family. They may also introduce ‘secrets’ as a way to control or scare the child. Blackmailing is also a common method used.
The tactics of predators and groomers
- They want to have conversations in private. They may ask you to keep your conversations a secret, and lie to your family in order to keep your relationship hidden. They may repeatedly ask if you trust them
- They are likely to send lots of messages through various platforms
- They ask for personal information, such as your age, or where you go to school. They really want to get to know everything about you and your life
- They want to know everything about your environment (for instance, if anyone else uses they computer that you use)
- They try to make you feel special, loved and desired. They might offer advice, attention and gifts
- They try to turn you against other people, or isolate you from friends and family
- They may ask for pictures or to video chat and emotionally blackmail you in order to get what they want
- They may make sexual comments and messages. This is usually a progression from subtle comments – they may begin by complimenting you on your appearance
- They may pressure you to meet in person
- They may threaten you if you do not do what they ask
Signs for Parents To Look Out For:
Your child may be subject to grooming or engaging with an online predator if they:
- Have become extremely secretive about what they are doing online. SafeToNet can help here and give you statistical App usage which could highlight new chat forums etc
- Change screen or turn off their device when you or another adult enters the room
- Get angry or worked up if they cannot go online, and become obsessive about being online.
- Have an older boyfriend or girlfriend
- Go to strange places to hang out with friends
- Receives phone calls, gifts, letters, or packages from someone that you do not recognise or know.
- Starts behaving differently
- Begin to download pornography online
What Should Parents Do?
The SafeToNet Foundation recommends that parents discuss internet safety often, and educate their children on the dangers of talking to people they don’t physically know online. The incorporation of educational videos may be useful here, which can easily be found online.
Parents should talk to their children about the tactics and common signs of groomers and predators described above. They can also ask questions such as: has an online stranger tried to befriend you; talked to you about sex; asked for personal information; asked or sent pictures; made any uncomfortable comments; or offered to send gifts?
If they find out their child has been talking to people they do not know online, they should try not to overreact as this may hinder their child being open and honest with them in the future. Parents should let them know that they can confide in them, or give them the option to talk to someone anonymously such as Childline. Also, give your child websites that they can turn to anonymously, as they may be feeling ashamed, scared or guilty, and could have a reluctance to open up to the parent.
What Can Children Do?
If children think they are being groomed or are talking to an online predator, here are four things they can do:
Compiled in collaboration with SaferLondon, the Anti-Bullying Alliance and John Carr OBE