The Online Grooming and Abuse of Children

Fr. Shay Cullen

Nowadays parents, teachers, and police have to be alert and aware that there are thousands of pedophiles luring and enticing youngsters online over the Internet to be their friends and confidants. Sometimes they pose as younger teenagers to attract a teenager.

The young, especially if they are in anyway lacking parental affection, are lonely, victims of bullying at school and seeking friends, are the most vulnerable because they go surfing on-line especially on social media. There they can send messages to someone asking, “Can I be your friend?” They are then invited to chat and share information about themselves. The sex predator will disguise his age and groom the victim with false information about himself, his hobbies and lifestyle and schooling. The child victim will usually tell the truth about him or herself. They are flattered when they send a photo. They are given attention and promises of gifts if they ever meet.

After some time, weeks and months even, the child is captivated by this new, kind, loving friend who gives advice and support and understanding the child’s problems with their parents and classmates. The child is then like an innocent fly caught in the spider’s web of the grooming pedophile. When this is established, the groomer can send photos of himself or of another whose identity he has adopted, sometimes even sexually explicit photos are sent and similar photos are expected in return. Each sexual predator has his own technique to seduce and lure his victim into an emotionally dependent relationship.

They will arrange to meet secretly and the grooming is then person to person. If the older man has posed as a younger one, he has an excuse why his young friend suddenly can’t come. He then continues the grooming. Soon the older man, will listen to the problems, develop rapport, understanding and at a later meeting will embrace the teenager, be caring even then touching and sexual abuse happens. The relationship is allowed and tolerated by the teenager especially if the abuser gives the teenager gifts and money. “Friendship” develops trust and the victim promises to tell no one as advised by the abuser.

Parents and relatives and brothers or sisters will notice a change in the personality of the child victim. They become secretive and lock themselves away in their room with their computer or are always going to an internet shop. They go out alone, don’t return home until late, even stay out and are accomplished liars with cover stories to hide their new “relationship.” Their parents and friends may challenge and question them but they will withdraw all the more and become isolated. The disagreements with family drive them all the closer to and make them more dependent on their abuser.

They are being damaged and show signs of anxiety, become quarrelsome, even rebellious, can drop out of school and finally become depressed, isolated and abuse alcohol and drugs. The pedophile will introduce the victim to these dangerous substances and they develop an addiction. The child does not realize how they have changed nor that they are victims of sexual abuse and exploitation.

In the later stages of abusive relationships which can go on for years, the victim grows older but is trapped in the relationship and can’t get out of it because of shame, exposure, no one to trust and no one to tell and not knowing where to get help. Then negative self-harm with the slashing of the wrists or overdosing on dangerous drugs will set in. There can be anger at the abuser and frustration at being emotionally captive by him can also develop and this dependency can lead to attempted suicide.

There is another kind of child and youth abuse over the Internet or by smartphone and that is sexploitation as it is called. This is another form of criminality. The predator follows the same path as the pedophile described above but when the teenager has the belief and trust that he or she is in contact with a boy or girlfriend and is induced to have feelings of attraction, he or she will be “dared” to show their private parts or to do sexual acts to themselves on live camera, send sexually explicit pictures of themselves and the so-called “friend” has it all recorded.

Then the extortion begins and emails are sent to the victim threatening that the videos will be posted online and sent to their parents, classmates, and friends. This is a devastating crime. Money is demanded, sometimes on a monthly basis to prevent the explicit images being shared or sometimes for a onetime payment for a huge sum of money. The teenagers can’t ask help or pay it and some have committed suicide. In other cases, the teenagers have been promised the images or videos will not be sent if they meet their abuser and they do and are sexually exploited, sometimes continually.

With trusting, caring, understanding relationships with their children from early childhood parents can prevent online abuse. By sharing activities, interests and open heart to heart talk about trust, the children will be close to the parents and feel secure, comfortable and trusting of them as they grow into the teenage years with the challenges of puberty and first friendships. Parents have to be open about the dangers of false friendships and the temptations on the Internet.

If the parents have a trusting open relationship with each other, their children will not be excluded or feel uncared for and unloved. That loneliness is the beginning of online grooming and abuse of children. The good loving example of parents is what forms the personality and character of the child.

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