Session 2.3: Online offenders and risks

Topic Progress:

Despite misconceptions which exist regarding child sex offenders, a child sex offender can be anyone and there are no physical traits which can easily allow us to detect them. They can be adults or young people themselves, both male and female, they can be strangers or someone the child already knows, and they can be both foreigners and locals. 

It is impossible therefore to identify a child sex offender by their physical traits. However, there are common behaviors that are normally used by child sex offenders online which can be recognized. 

Online grooming 

Online grooming is the most commonly applied method used by child sex offenders to gain access to children online. Online grooming is when a person contacts a child online and tries to gain leverage over them or try to build a relationship with them through online communication, with the intention of exploiting them for their own sexual gratification. Child sex offenders often use this technique in order to gain access to a child, build their trust and receive sexual material from a child online and/or arrange to meet them to sexually abuse them in person.  

Grooming can happen in both an online and offline setting. Offline, a child sex offender will not only groom the child, rather also groom the child’s whole environment including people in the community and the close family. In this way the child sex offender maintains control over both the child and their surroundings and lowers the chances of anyone reporting on him.  

Online however, the grooming process is slightly different. As opposed to grooming in the offline world, it is easier for a child sex offender to groom the child online and gain their trust. Children’s inhibitions online are often lower with a false sense of security when the person they communicate with is physically separated from them by a screen. This results in a much faster grooming process which can last even just a few minutes before the offender introduces sexual topics to a child and makes sexual propositions. The swiftness of the offender’s actions may lead to the child sending sexual material before they have time to realize the consequences of their own actions 

Advances in technology allow offenders to remain anonymous, create false identities and disguise as someone they are not. They are able to monitor children’s activities online and more easily know their whereabouts and what they like. This way they are able to lure children by exploiting their emotional or physical necessities. For instance, they can offer money, or use emotional manipulation and make false promises to make a child feel more comfortable to do as they request.  

As this happens through manipulation of the offender, it is important to understand that if a child did end up complying to an offender’s demand, they should not be blamed for the act.  

Children’s exposure to pornography 

Online grooming often incorporates offenders sending children pornographic material in order to desensitize them to sexual demands and normalize sexual activities. Children’s exposure to sexual material makes them more likely to agree to engage in sexual activities themselves.   

Exposing children to pornography is one of the main forms of risks to children online as it increases their chances of being sexually exploited by child sex offenders. They will use online communication to send pornographic photographs and videos directly to a child, or expose it in a public way online to make it visible and easy for a child to be exposed to.  

It is important to know though as a parent that some children actively seek out pornography while on the web. The reasons can vary and include, curiosity, will to understand better sexual relationships, excitement and more. While this is a dangerous behavior that is harmful for their development and should be addressed, make sure you do not become angry at them, rather openly discuss the negative impact it may have while being supportive towards learning about healthy relationships.   

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