Understanding the issues
According to Ofcom, most parents are worried about what their child sees and interacts with online. Due to the ever-evolving and developing digital landscape, we are facing an increasing number of unregulated online spaces that predators, groomers, scammers, and anyone seeking to cause harm can use. It is children and young people who, in our shared online world, are most at risk.
Therefore, it is important we all understand the issues that young people are facing online.
Do you think you or someone you know is in danger online?
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Signs of online grooming
Grooming is often thought of as a sexually motivated crime, but in fact there are many outcomes of grooming including radicalisation, county lines/gang activity, cybercrime and more. It’s a grim list, but the one good thing is that no matter what the intended outcome, the signs of grooming are pretty much the same (though some may be more prevalent than others).
Over-friendliness and flattery
A groomer’s first approach will be to win the trust of the young person by creating shared bonds and interests. They may flatter and compliment, make the young person feel heard and connected with.
Look out for: anyone trying just a little bit too hard to be the best friend you’ve ever had.
Groomers use the free gift technique to win trust and loyalty. Everything from fried chicken meals to new trainers to online currency has been used to win over their victims.
Look out for: loads of free gifts from someone you don’t know. Remember, if it seems to good to be true it probably is.
A groomer wants to get the young person alone, and isolate them away from the influence of friends and family. This is done both face to face and also online (using private chat rooms, for example).
Look out for: someone pushing away your family and friends or trying to be your sole influence.
Anyone telling you to keep your new friendship a secret is a bit suspect. If it’s a normal friendship, why would they do that?
Look out for: someone urging you not to tell about your friendship/discussions. Note also that a groomed child will likely be secretive and not want to show what they are doing online.
Any dramatic change in mood or temperament should raise concerns, particularly when accompanied by any of these other changes.
Look out for: defiance, mood swings, depression, anxiety, withdrawal
Asking for photos/videos
One of the fastest growing online crimes in lockdown was predators asking young people for nude selfies. Often when young people oblige (thinking that they are entering a one-to-one relationship, or just enjoying the excitement) this leads to sextortion – blackmailing them for more images.
Look out for: people pushing for image/webcam sharing.
Often when a young person resists the cajoling of a predator to take part in some activity, the atmosphere turns threatening. We teach that if someone is telling you bad things will happen to you or your family if you don’t do ‘X’, that is not a true friendship – and it is time to stand up and report it to a trusted adult.
Look out for: conversations that turn nasty/threatening.
Attempts to meet up
A groomer may use all sorts of clever approaches to encourage a meet-up in person. Never go to a private place to meet anyone you have only met online, no matter how persuasive they are. Internet dating safely has its own set of rules (never a private place, always tell a friend where you’re going, have a time that you will be home and call someone).
Look out for: private meeting places being suggested, reluctance to meet in a public place or with a group of friends