Grooming and Online Predators
Hi, it’s Susan McClean. And today I’ll be talking to you about a very serious topic and a very sensitive topic, and that’s online child exploitation or grooming, as it’s commonly known. Sadly, with all the benefits that the Internet brings us, it also brings us many negatives. And one is that instant access to children that paedophiles can now find. Never before in the history of the world have so many potential online child sex offenders had instant, unfettered access to so many potential victims.
It’s something that sends shivers down the spines of all parents, the thought that a paedophile may be in communication with their child. Sadly, these people are very clever. They’re very good at what they do. And they know if an app is popular with children, that if they go there, there’s a fair chance they’ll find a victim. Often online, paedophiles don’t look for a particular child in that they’re not looking for your child, particularly. What they’re doing is they’re casting a net out to see who takes the bait.
And if your child takes that bait and starts to communicate with this person, then the grooming process can start.
Any app, game site or platform that allows Person A to communicate with Person B on it, can be used by paedophiles. And the more popular with children, the more popular it will be for those who choose to harm them. Often the contact starts out innocently enough. A message, a comment, your hot, you’re cute. I saw your video. You’re amazing. You’re a fabulous dancer. And of course, what child doesn’t like to be flattered? So often the child will respond with a thanks. And the minute that occurs, then the grooming can continue.
These people gain your child’s trust, and as much as you sit there and think, nah, not my child. Sadly, the reality is good kids do make poor choices. And these people suck children in way before they realise what’s happening.
After a period of communication where that trust has been gained, and all innocent and above board at this stage, the topic tends to move into a sexual nature. Often your child is asked about their sexual activities, about body parts.
It’s often very confusing for young people who then have to Google what they’ve been asked. Often the paedophile will send explicit images of themselves or even other young children to try to normalize his or her request for explicit images.
We know that some online child sex offenders aim to meet children in real life and sexually abuse them. But we also know that a large majority of them are happy with images, with videos, with sharing. Webcam abuse is relatively new where paedophiles do not participate in contact offending, but they director a child to sexually abuse themselves on a webcam while they’re watching. Not that the child knows that it’s abuse.
When this started, the victims were predominantly in third world countries such as the Philippines and parts of India. But now what we’re seeing through the office of the eSafety Commissioner and also law enforcement agencies around Australia, is Australian children have become the victims of this type of insidious online child exploitation.
So, again, devices out of bedrooms and bathrooms make sure that your children know that no matter what, they should be only engaging online with someone they know and trust in the real world.
Now, when we look at the sexual exploitation of children in real life, we know statistically that the majority of this abuse is conducted on them by someone they already know and trust. So that’s why we stopped talking about stranger danger because we didn’t need children to be scared of the stranger, we needed them to be aware of the creepy uncle or family friend. But online, it’s different.
The vast majority of this online abuse is by someone they do not know in the real world. So whilst limiting their communications to people they know and trust won’t stop 100 per cent any form of online abuse. It’s a huge factor in keeping children safer longer. Be there with them, talk to them about it.
I talked to children from grade three about predators. I talk about what they might do, not in graphic detail, but children that age can understand that there might be someone trying to harm them. You’ve already had these conversations with your children in real life. So make sure that when you’re having a safety discussion with your children that you incorporate a discussion about online safety. The fact that people shouldn’t make you feel uncomfortable online, shouldn’t be asking for naked photos, shouldn’t be sending them naked photos, and if they do, they can come and tell you about it.
Online grooming and child sexual abuses, of course, a crime. And whilst the police do an amazing job in this space, they’re really only chipping at the tip of the iceberg.
Their ability to catch all these bad people is hampered by the sheer volume. But even if we could catch every online child sex offender, what that meant is a child had already been harmed. So through education, I would much rather prevent that abuse from happening in the first place rather than arrest an offender.
Please talk to your children about this from a very early age. If they’re online, they need to know.
A lot of parents will say to me that they don’t want to scare, worry or upset their child. That is a natural reaction. Use language that your child can understand and speak in a way that doesn’t make them overly fearful. But ignoring bad things and not talking about them doesn’t fix it and doesn’t stop it from happening.
Trust your gut. If something is not right, if you see a text, if you see a chat, and something is just not okay, then act. If you believe your child has been groomed, please log off and walk away, gather as much evidence as you can, screenshots, usernames, etc, and head down to your local police station and make a report. Do not flag the account with the social media platform or gaming platform. Leave that up to the police and do not shut your child to count down, which is a very natural reaction.
Whilst police can obtain data on closed accounts, it is much easier for them to access open accounts. So what we want is the police to have every opportunity to track down these people who are harming our children. Another reason for leaving a child’s account open is often police will take over your child’s account to keep the grooming happening. Please don’t try that yourself, as tempting as it might be or because you’ve seen it on CSI.
On CSI, the offender is always caught in 55 minutes and 10 seconds flat, week in, week out. That’s not reality.
And when police do this, they do it in a way that is legally admissible in court. If you have a crack at it, you might find that you’re charged with entrapment and we don’t want that. But be aware that justice in the real world, there are people online that choose to harm children. Protect your children. Talk to your children. Be there with them. Thank you.