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Dangers of online grooming and protection mantra

Thousands of children have been subjected to online grooming all around the world. Grooming is a dangerous process in which cyber predators target young children and, in most cases, groom them with an intention to exploit them sexually or harm them. Cyber Predators are grooming children online via social media platform Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp etc. There is sharp increase in online grooming crime this year due to the unique situation caused by Covid-19. It is time for all the parents and children to understand the modus operandi of such predators, protect their children and alert the agencies. In this article we will understand the grooming processes, stages and protection mantra from cyber grooming.

 

Contributors:

  • Keisha, Delhi Public School, Pune
  • Riya Singh, Navy Children School, Kochi
  • Apeksha Maurya, DAV Public School, Jasola Vihar, New Delhi
  • Mallika Srivastav, DAV Public School, Jasola Vihar, New Delhi
  • Nikhil, DAV Public School, Jasola Vihar, New Delhi
  • Rashi Gupta, DAV Public School, Jasola Vihar, New Delhi
  • Shruti Kumari, DAV public School Jasola Vihar New Delhi

 

What is grooming?

Grooming refers to an act that deliberately aimed to establish an emotional connection and trust with a child or young person in order to cheat and trap them in committing forgery or sexual exploitation. It is an act where the predator targets a child online, build a virtual relationship, gain child’s trust and exploit the child.  As the children get trapped, they find themselves powerless, scared, shamed and helpless to such an extent that they even commit suicide.

Incident:

A 15 yrs old girl name Amy (not a real name) was bullied by her classmates in school and could not make any friend. She was lonely and due to continuous bullying in schools she found difficult to mix up with other people. She started using social networking site to make some virtual friends. In very quick time she was able to make many friends online. She used to accept online friend request from strangers. She found one of the friends, another 15-year girl to be very caring, friendly and jovial. She shared all her worries and so was the friend. Soon both started exchanging pictures of each other. Gradually both started sharing ‘how they are growing pictures’ with topless photographs.  Soon, her new friend started blackmailing her to meet her personally and threatened that if she does not meet, her nude pictures would be posted on Facebook and other social media platforms. After two days, she found her picture on Facebook with her name and picture. Thankfully, she shared this ordeal with her mom. Soon her parents reported the matter to police. During the investigation it was found that Amy’s new friend was not a girl, it was actually a middle-aged man who had created a fake profile of 15 years of girl and added some unknown girl’s picture in her post and profile. Amy was lucky and the groomer was caught on time before any further damage was done to Amy. But there are hundreds of incidents wherein the child felt shamed and committed suicide or surrendered for exploitation.

Few of the comments from such victims that were published in recent years is an eye-opener:

 

 

Stages of grooming:

Cyber grooming happens in stages when one stage is completed cyber predator moves on to next stage and keep tricking the victim until the last stage is completed which is ultimately the exploitation of the victim. The grooming stages are as follows:

Stage 1: Connect:

  • Predator makes Fake profile
  • Collects info of victim from online profile or chat
  • Send friend request to victim from fake profile
  • Start friendly conversation
  • Systematically pretends to have common interests

 

Stage 2: Establish Trust 

  • Develops trust
  • Supports child's point of view regarding conflicts
  • Exploits family, school, or friend friction
  • Acts like he is the only person who understands the child
  • Becomes an IM or chat buddy

 

Stage 3: Establish Secrecy

  • Establishes secrecy
  • Exchange email addresses or phone numbers
  • Parents kept in the dark Child may use secret email address
  • Adult-oriented materials and language may be used

 

Stage 4: Desensitize Shyness

  • Erodes barriers
  • Frequent adult-oriented conversations
  • Sends pornographic images to the child.
  • Convince child this is normal and everyone does such things
  • Child’s adult “experiences” are encouraged
  • Natural curiosity exploited
  • Personal inhibitions desensitized

 

Stage 5: Direct intimidation

  • Child’s emotional distance from parent increasing
  • Can be blackmailed easily
  • Threats of violence or public humiliation
  • Child feels increasingly powerless

 

Final Stage: Byte the Prey

  • Face to face meeting
  • The ultimate goal of the predator fulfilled
  • Not all predators use entire grooming process
  • Victim may meet predator willingly

 

Danger Signs of ‘Groomed’ Child:

The grooming process and methods are different. The whole process depends on victim’s social and mental condition, his/her family environment. After assessing victim’s situations cyber predator places his/her bet. These predators are very skilled in deceiving the children. However, few are the most common signs which can alert any person to know if the child is being groomed:

  • Asking to keep conversations with him as secret
  • Asking to share personal information or family pictures
  • Asking to send your pictures or any private information
  • Asking meet alone and threatening if denied
  • Telling negative things about the world and your parents and family
  • Showing he/she is the only well wisher
  • Starts blackmailing

 

Protection Mantra for Children:

  • Use only those online platform and social media your parents and friends are aware about and added in your friend list.
  • If you find anything uncomfortable, don’t hesitate to tell your parents, sibling, teacher or your guardian
  • Never accept any friend request from any unknown person.
  • Never share your personal information and picture online
  • Be careful while sharing or tagging your picture on social media
  • Never accept any gift or coupon from strangers and the person you have meet on virtual platform
  • Never put your personal information on social media.
  • Whenever you feel uncomfortable with any demand or help from the ‘friend’, share it with your parents.

 

Protection Mantra for Parents  to save their children:

  • Have at least one meal with your children
  • Observe their change in behaviour – loss of taste and appetite, loneliness, falling performance in school etc.
  • In stead of confronting the children, be friendly and allow space for them to share their problems.
  • Share the incidents of grooming with children and encourage them to share the protection mantra. After all they are more tech-savvy than their older generations.
  • Set up some discipline about Internet time after discussion with children and keep an eye on any deviation.

 

Conclusion:

Cyber grooming is a real danger especially for adolescent children when they surf Internet. The intensity of trauma in victim is so high that majority of them commit suicide. It is essential for us to recognise this as a big evil of cyber world and fight it out collectively. The protection mantra lies in our understanding of the modus operandi and a friendly environment at home to discuss them regularly with children.

 

Weseso is a non-profit organization which works for cyber safety of the society with students as agents of change.

To learn more about cyber security read weseso blogs, written by students from different schools. You can also write blogs and take part in various knowledge sharing discussion. To get involved, you first need to become a cyber warrior and become a part of larger community who are committed to secure family, friends and society from cyber crime.
To know how to become a cyber warrior, click the link: https://weseso.org/how-to-become-a-cyber-warrior/