What is Grooming? Signs to Look for With Sexual Predators
It’s every parent’s nightmare that their child may be abducted by a stranger. But what happens when the threat is even more insidious, beginning at home with your child on their cell phone?
In a recent study, 46 percent of 10- to 17-year-olds admitted to giving out their personal information to someone they did not know – a sobering statistic that indicates many children could be communicating with adults with dark intentions.
Recognizing the Signs of Online Grooming
Online grooming occurs when a predator initiates and cultivates a relationship with a child over the internet, culminating in sexual abuse that can include:
- Taking sexual photos
- Sending sexual messages
- Meeting in real life for sexual activities
The process of grooming is a purposefully slow one, as predators methodically take steps to ingratiate themselves to children and gain trust. Predators are masters at manipulation and can appear kind and helpful to mask their ulterior motives, taking advantage of a child’s naivete.
The steps below follow a general pattern of behavior consistent with online grooming. However, every situation is unique, so variations are always possible. The most important thing is to always be aware of any adult who begins taking an interest in your child.
Predators often target vulnerable children, such as those who are emotionally vulnerable or have less parental oversight. The first interactions are pleasant and include light conversations to lure them in, making the child feel important. Many predators initiate conversations on public chat apps or in the chat section of kid’s games, pretending to be younger.
Many times, the predator tries to fill some sort of need that the child has – many times, it’s an emotional need, like a child’s desire for attention. They meet it by paying them compliments, listening to them, or buying them gifts. Be aware of any presents your child may receive from other adults, especially electronic devices – these may be used exclusively for communication with the predator.
At this point, as the predator is deepening the relationship, he’ll gauge the level of threat he’s facing from the parents. He’ll ask questions to see how closely the child’s devices are monitored, and try to determine whether the child will be believed if the truth comes out. During this time, kids may become more secretive about their activity.
Here, the predator meets up with the child for the first time in real life. He will try to gain the trust of the child completely, convincing them that they share a special bond.
A predator will look for opportunities to spend time alone with the child. They will often use sly tactics to create these situations and use this time to further reinforce the idea of a special relationship. Trust your instincts when something isn’t right when it comes to how your child is acting.
This stage culminates in sexual activity. Predators will begin to discuss sex explicitly, mentioning sexual activities with the child to desensitize them. Some predators have been known to show children pictures of other children without their clothing in order to make it appear more normal. They’ll also introduce sexual information that typical children of their age group would not be familiar with.
When a predator starts to abuse a child, they will go to great lengths to maintain control and ensure that the child is dependent on them. In most cases, the offender uses secrecy, blame, and even threats to keep children from saying anything.
Let your children know they can come to you when anyone asks them to do something they are not comfortable with, even if that person is an adult.
What You Can Do
Children of any gender, any family situation, and any socioeconomic level may be targeted as victims of grooming – no one is immune. To help protect your child from online predators, there are a number of steps you can take, including:
- Encourage your child to be share aware by talking openly and often about what sites they’re visiting, games they’re playing, and people they’re chatting with.
- Create a family environment where your child feels safe talking about difficult topics. The safer a child feels, the more likely they are to open up when something bad happens.
- Monitor their devices for potentially harmful communications. Bark is specially designed to capture messages that may be inappropriate or indicative of sexual abuse.
The truth is, grooming signs can be difficult to spot. This is because sexual predators tend to also befriend parents and caregivers. Maintaining an open line of communication with your child and paying extra attention to the amount of time they spend with other adults, as well as monitoring their online activity with Bark, can help protect your child from online sexual predators.