Grooming is a process where a sexual predator identifies and gets access and the trust of a child for the purpose to sexual exploitation and/or assault. Unfortunately, the Internet has provided a medium in which this exploitation can be shared and traded, and children can be accessed more easily.
We teach young children "stranger danger" but when it comes to sexual abuse, young children under age 12 are most likely to be victimized by family members. This type of abuse, according to research with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, is the worst type. Family members are more likely to engage in more degrading and penetrative sex acts with young children than others. They are also more likely to trade the child with others for further abuse.
Younger children are most likely to be victimized by family members. Those that are abused by family members are also more likely to be actively traded with several people. Infant/toddler content was the most likely to be actively traded and involves a family member.
With older children and teens, online sexual extortion, or sextortion involves social media. Research by the Center for Technology Innovation with Brookings said, "social media manipulation of some kind is present in the overwhelming majority of cases." This manipulation, also known as catfishing, was found in 83% of the cases they studied.
While online safety is important for young children as well as teens, statistically a child is more likely to be sexually abused through other means, with someone they know. Before abuse occurs, grooming happens.
What does grooming look like?
- The child gets special attention from the predator. This could mean taking buying them gifts or praising them.
- The predator starts with non-sexual touching. This may mean rubbing shoulders, brushing hair or pats on the back. They may touch the child in your presence so the child thinks you're comfortable with it.
- They will try to get the child away from you. This could mean arranging special activities or babysitting.
- Over time the abuser may start sexually manipulating the child. This could mean showing them pornographic images, finding situations like bathing/swimming where they could be naked or asking them sexually-charged questions.
Parents can help prevent this abuse by:
- Supervising the child. Unsupervised children are more likely to be targeted.
- Talk without shame. Don't make sex a hidden, taboo topic. Children are more likely to report incidents when they have a basic sex education and know they can go to a parent who will not shame them.
- Pay attention. Warning signs that children may be abused are mood shifts, sleeping problems, crying, being fearful, withdrawal or victimizing others.
This article is adapted from the author's piece at KSL: "How to protect your children from online sextortion"
Carrie Rogers-Whitehead is the founder of Digital Respons-Ability. She writes a column on digital parenting for KSL and regularly trains parents on technology. Contact her to learn more about her digital parenting workshops at firstname.lastname@example.org