With Covid-19, closed schools and homeschooling, more children have encounter the internet and therefore also the risks of using the internet. I would like to draw your attention to the phenomenon of cyber-grooming and ways how you can keep your child safe from becoming a victim.
What is cyber-grooming?
(Mostly older) persons contact children via apps, social networks and online games to encourage them to perform sexual acts and exchange nude photos. This also means that as soon as your child can read and write and uses apps with chat functions and/or social networks, he or she is potentially at risk of becoming a victim of cybergrooming.
Who are the perpetrators? What do they want? What is their strategy?
There is no specific age group. The stereotype of the old pedophile man cannot be proven statistically. It has been found that 95% of the perpetrators are male and 2/3 of them are under 30 years old. Usually, a counterpart of the same age is pretended in order to build trust. In order to stay in contact, personal data such as telephone numbers are asked for. The first questions about exchanging pictures then take place. Once trust has been established, nude photos are requested with which the perpetrators blackmail the children. Videos are also not uncommon. The tone becomes harsher, and the perpetrators threaten to publish the already existing pictures if no more are sent. Children and adolescents are put under pressure so that many of them do not dare to tell their parents about it. Shame also plays a big role. Children cannot recognise cybergroomers at first sight because they are highly sexualised and act very strategically and manipulatively.
How can you recognize an offender?
Many disguise themselves as youtubers, influencers, modelling agents or football coaches who are supposedly looking for talent and have discovered the child on the internet. Some try to lure children on the flirting level and ask, whether it is okay for the kids to talk to someone “older”. Others try to hook up with children in online game chatrooms and ask them to move into a more discrete messenger platform such as telegram, kik or snapchat for further conversation.
What can you do to support your children?
1. Talk to your children!
Stay in touch with your children about their online experiences. Ask regularly which networks and online services your children are using. Signal that you are always available if there are problems. Only a few children and young people actively ask for help when they are affected by cybergrooming or online sexual violence. Reasons for this are usually shame, the feeling of being to blame, but also the fear of punishment, for example in the form of an internet ban. Parents should therefore reassure their children that they are not to blame and that they need not fear punishment or condemnation if they confide.
2. Name warning signs & agree on rules
Perpetrators often use similar manipulative strategies to approach children and young people. Make children and young people aware of the warning signs. While younger children should not communicate with strangers online at all, parents will find it difficult to enforce such restrictions on young people. However, you should introduce important rules for online communication early on and firmly agree them with your children. For example, it should be clear that young people should immediately break off contact with strangers in the following cases and seek advice from known confidants:
- if the conversation turns to sexuality or previous sexual experiences.
- if gifts of money or other “advantages” are offered (for example in online games).
- when sending pictures or videos is requested or the webcam is to be used.
- if the conversation is to be quickly shifted to a more private communication channel (e.g. Skype or other messenger, e-mail, telephone).
- when an offline meeting is suggested.
3. Explain the dangers of “cybersex”
Explain the risks of online communication. It is common for perpetrators to record what is happening in front of the webcam or to demand revealing pictures. These recordings are then used to blackmail further sexual encounters online or offline. The blackmailing of money also occurs (sextortion). In addition, the recordings can be disseminated on the internet, where they may be shared and viewed en masse. Children and young people should therefore be aware that once pictures, videos and contact via webcam have been sent, they are never safe and private.
4. Point out defense strategies
Children and young people should know that they can stop online contacts at any time if something makes them uncomfortable. In addition, familiarize children and young people with the reporting and blocking systems that exist on all major platforms. If possible, all attempts of cybergrooming and online sexual violence should be reported. Perpetrators usually do not just look for a victim but contact children and young people en masse. Even if you have escaped the danger yourself, you can prevent perpetrators from abusing other children and young people by reporting it within the platform or to the police.
5. Use technical protection measures
Parents should help with setting up online profiles (especially privacy & security settings). Often the basic settings of the services are insecure for children, so that contact by strangers is possible or all private pictures are freely accessible. Precautions can also be taken on the devices themselves.
Cyber-grooming is a crime!
More information can be obtained from the Europol’s website: https://www.europol.europa.eu/crime-areas-and-trends/crime-areas/child-sexual-exploitation
Are you interested in digital topics?
Topics like these are being discussed in our ELfR working groups “Digital Transformation” as well as “Family & Education”. Feel welcomed to actively participate in our working groups. You will find an overview of all our working groups here.
The opinions on this blog are of the authors themselves and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of ELfR.