Online child grooming
Grooming or the action of luring and manipulating a child, refers to actions deliberately undertaken in order to establish an emotional link with the child to reduce its inhibitions and to get the child closer to the harasser. Child grooming is used to lure the children into illegal activities like sexual abuse, prostitution or child pornography.
Internet grooming is using chat rooms or any other online communication means to find possible victims among children. The harasser starts conversations to find out information regarding location, interests, favorite activities and sexual experiences the minor had.
Deliberate actions undertaken by an adult to form a trusting relationship, to establish an emotional link with a child with the intention that later to have sexual intercourse are known under the name of child grooming. This involves psychological manipulation as positive consolidation, legal activities, but later they may conduct to sexual activities. These activities are done to win child and parents' trust. Even more, researches show that victims (children) are less inclined to claim a crime committed by someone they trust or know.
To establish a good relation with the child and its family, the groomer may do various things. It may show unjustified interest regarding someone's child, in order to be the child special friend and to win its trust. The groomer also offers presents or money with no obvious reason. Also the groomer may show the child pornographic videos in order to "normalize" its behavior and to make the child to accept easier such acts. A groomer may try to win parents' trust in order to have easier access to the child, and it looks for opportunities to spend time alone with the child (babysitting).
Trust and intimacy may rapidly develop online. It's possible that the groomer to take advantage of the online anonymity to build relationships with inexperienced young. Some groomers search children online and take the necessary steps to meet them in real life.
An online groomer is an adult, internet user, which exploits vulnerable children or teenagers, usually in abusive sexual purposes. Children's online Victimization includes psychological manipulation of the child, requests to engage in sexual activities or discussions appropriated for adults, unwanted exposure to sexual materials, online harassment, threatening or any other aggressive communications which don't have a sexual nature but cause fear and embarrass.
What can parents do?
It's strongly recommended that parents (tutors) speak with their children and teenagers regarding online safety, including the risk of being the victim of an online harasser.
Another method is to use parental control software that will monitor the child's activity on computer and on internet. Last Operation System (Windows7, Windows Vista) include options for monitoring children's online activity.
Check the age limits on social network sites. Most of these sites have the age limit 13 years. If your child is under 13 do no let him/her use that site. Small children shouldn't use chat rooms - the risks are too big. As children grow, guide them to monitored chat rooms, for children. Also you may encourage teenagers to use monitored chat rooms. If your children chat on chat rooms make sure you know who they talk to. Train your children to never leave the public area of chat. Many chat rooms offer private spaces where users can have private conversations ("Whisper" zone).
Keep your computer connected to the Internet in a common area of the house, never in child's bedroom. It's more difficult for a groomer to establish a relationship with a child if the computer's screen is easily visible. Even when the computer is situated in an area heavily circulated you should be near the child when he/she is online.
When children are small, they should not have an e-mail address or to be able to use one of their parents. As they grow you may create them an e-mail account but you have to heave access to it (e-mail forward, username, password).
The children mustn't respond to instant messages or e-mails from people he/she does not know personally.
If you suspect that your child / teenager was online groomed do not blame him/her. Take drastic measures to stop any future contact with the possible groomer (report to Internet Provider or a specialized organization.)
How to avoid online grooming
Children should be cautious while using the online environment:
- they never have to download pictures from unknown sources - the pictures may have explicit sexual content;
- using e-mail filters;
- they have to say parents (tutors, and adult they trust) if something happened or if they talked to someone online and made them feel uncomfortable or embarrassed;
- choosing a neutral pseudonym which does not reveal personal information;
- they never have to reveal personal information (themselves or their family); they don't have to fill online personal profiles;
- to stop any e-mail, instant message conversation or chats if someone starts asking questions that are too personal or sexually suggestive.
What can be done in the case of online grooming
If your child is receiving sexually explicit pictures from an online corespondent or he/she is sexually solicited via e-mail, instant messenger or any other way, contact the police or any specialized organization. In Romania you can call the Hotline and the operators will direct your case and tell what to do. Save any document, including e-mail addresses, websites addresses and chat journals as evidence.
Check your computer for indecent files or any other kind of communication with sexual implication - usually these are warning signs.
Who fights against online grooming
There are many organizations which fights against online grooming. Numerous countries including USA, Canada, Australia, Great Britain already inserted online grooming as a crime in their legislative system. In "Protection of children against abuses trough new technologies" report, the Committee of Cybernetic Criminality of European Council addressed the issues regarding violence against children trough the use of new technologies (the issue of child pornography on the internet is already regulated by the Convention at article number 9) with reference especially to grooming both through the Internet and through mobile phones.
Microsoft Family Safety - Child Safety
Microsoft Stay Sharp On Internet Safety - Protect Your Family
MySpace, Facebook attract online predators
Study conducted by the University of New Hampshire on online harassers stereotypes
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