In a number of cases young people have thought they have met somebody really special online, but they are in fact talking to an adult who has a sexual interest in them. These adults and older adolescents target children and young people with the aim of making them feel loved enough to want to meet the adult in the real world.
In most cases, online groomers want to be seen as a trusted peer or caring older person. Sometimes they might pose as someone needing help or in distress, which makes the victim less suspicious of the groomer's actions and intentions. Groomers will typically want you to keep part, if not all, of the relationship secret. Conversations might often focus on the meaning of "true love," involve talking about sexual issues, or include requests for photos and web cam sex.
Online grooming may extend beyond one conversation and will often mean rescheduling online meetings and communications via email and mobile phone.
Victims may become confused when the groomer, whom they begin to trust, begins to do things that make them feel uncomfortable. Groomers may try to get victims to believe things which are not true, manipulate them to suspend their disbelief, and encourage them to abandon their usual sense of caution and skepticism.
Online groomers are often extremely patient and have sometimes communicated with their victims over a number of days, weeks, months and sometimes for over a year before they actually arrange to meet with the young person.
Groomers often try to isolate their victims from those around them by sabotaging the victim's friendships with peers and family members. This not only makes the victim more reliant on the groomer, but also reduces opportunities to talk to others about what is happening.
- Know what your child is doing online: Chat rooms and instant messager (IM) are common tools used by groomers. Keep the computer your child uses in a central location in the house, and monitor your child's online activities.
- Talk to your children about online grooming: Teach your children that they can come to you with any problems they are having and they should not trust anyone they meet online. Make sure that they understand that you will not take away their Internet privileges, since this fear keeps many kids from reporting online grooming. Also teach your children not to reveal any personal information on the Internet.
- Monitor your children's calls and their expenses: Often online groomers send gifts like mobile phones and prepaid cards. Make sure you are aware of any unusual gift that your child receives. Also keep a close watch on your credit card transactions and your phone bills for any unexpected behavior.
- Observe your child: You may observe significant behavioral change in a child if he is interacting with an online groomer. A child could appear secretive, withdrawn or aggressive towards their family and friends. The child may also begin to use phrases or language that is not common for their age or experience.
In the United States, the legal system seems to have many provisions specifically dealing with online grooming. Under the U.S. federal laws, it takes more than mere words to prove a case of enticement. The groomer must have demonstrated an intent to act, meaning that he must have shown an intent to do more than talk. Some state statutes, such as New York's, criminalize communications between an adult and minor. The federal laws cover anyone under 18. The various state laws sometimes set the ages as low as 16 or 17.
In the United Kingdom, Section 15 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 addresses the issue of grooming. If an adult communicates with a child on at least two occasions and arranges a meeting with that child in the real world then, if he either travels to that meeting or turns up to the meeting, and at that meeting he intends to commit a sexual act with the child then he is guilty of an offense carrying a sentence of up to 10 years imprisonment.