WARNING – Content should be disturbing to most readers
When children go online, they have direct and immediate access to friends, family, and complete strangers, which can put unsuspecting children at great risk. Children who meet and communicate with strangers online are easy prey for Internet predators. Predators have easy and anonymous access to children online where they can conceal their identity and roam without limit. Often, we have an image of sexual predators lurking around school playgrounds or hiding behind bushes scoping out their potential victims, but the reality is that today’s sexual predators search for victims while hiding behind a computer screen, taking advantage of the anonymity the Internet offers.
“People who do not believe that their children could ever become victimized online are living in an unrealistic world. Regardless of if your child makes ‘As’ or not, that child has the potential to become victimized through online technologies. I think it is very important for parents of all socioeconomic status and with all different roles in society to take this problem very seriously.”
Melissa Morrow, Supervisory Special Agent, Child Exploitation Squad, FBI
Predators Access to Kids
The anonymity of the Internet provides the perfect camouflage for a seasoned predator to operate. The predator’s knowledge of certain teenage subjects is as accurate as his or her calculated ability to speak teens’ online lingo.
Offline, pedophiles have typically operated in isolation. Never before have pedophiles had the opportunity to communicate so freely and directly with each other as they do online. Their communication on the Internet provides validation—or virtual validation—for their behavior. They share their conquests, real and imagined. They discuss ways to contact and lure children online and exchange tips on seduction techniques, as well as tips on the avoidance of law enforcement detection.
What Fuels Internet Predators?
- Easy and anonymous access to children
- Risky online behavior of youth
- Virtual validation
- Law enforcement challenges
- East access to “a la carte” child pornography
The Internet has fueled the deviant sexual behavior of predators due to their easy access to both child pornography and to children. Both ignite the sexual appetite of pedophiles. À la carte child pornography depicting kids of all shapes, sizes, ethnicities, and ages (even toddlers and infants!), is only a mouse click away.
Direct access to unsuspecting children via e-mail, instant messaging, social networking sites, and chat rooms simplifies the sexual predator’s efforts to contact and groom children. Additionally, some teens are placing themselves at risk and willingly talk about sexual matters with online acquaintances.
“Predators are hiding behind the anonymity of the Internet to target kid, to entice kids online–to try to persuade them to meet them in the physical world.” —Ernie Allen, President & CEO, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
What is the Profile of a Predator?
What does an online predator “look like”?
The online predator:
- Blends into society
- Is typically clean cut and outwardly law abiding
- Is usually white, middle-aged or younger, and male
- Uses position in society to throw off suspicion
- Can rise to be a pillar of society while actively pursuing children
- Often engages in activities involving children
- Appears trusting to both parents and child
“Predators are in all professions. Unfortunately, we have seen doctors, lawyers, law enforcement and clergy. There is really no common trait. In fact, many of them are drawn to those particular professions which give them access to children” —Mary Beth Buchanan, U.S. District Attorney, Western Pennsylvania
Source: Internet Safety101
Profile of a Pedophile and Common Characteristics
PEDOPHILES CAN BE ANYONE:
Pedophiles can be anyone — old or young, rich or poor, educated or uneducated, non-professional or professional, and of any race. However, pedophiles often demonstrate similar characteristics, but these are merely indicators and it should not be assumed that individuals with these characteristics are pedophiles. But knowledge of these characteristics coupled with questionable behavior can be used as an alert that someone may be a pedophile.
CHARACTERISTICS OF A PEDOPHILE:
- Often the pedophile is male and over 30 years of age.
- Single or with few friends in his age group.
- If married, the relationship is more “companion” based with no sexual relations.
- He is often vague about time gaps in employment which may indicate a loss in employment for questionable reasons or possible past incarceration.
PEDOPHILES LIKE CHILD-LIKE ACTIVITIES:
- He is often fascinated with children and child activities appearing to prefer those activities to adult oriented activities.
- He will often refer to children in pure or angelic terms using descriptives like innocent, heavenly, divine, pure, and other words that describe children but seem inappropriate and exaggerated.
- He has hobbies that are child-like such as collecting popular expensive toys, keeping reptiles or exotic pets, or building plane and car models.
PEDOPHILES OFTEN PREFER CHILDREN CLOSE TO PUBERTY:
- Pedophiles often have a specific age of child they target. Some prefer younger children, some older.
- Often his environment or a special room will be decorated in child-like decor and will appeal to the age and sex of the child he is trying to entice.Many pedophiles often prefer children close to puberty who are sexually inexperienced, but curious about sex.
- Many pedophiles often prefer children close to puberty who are sexually inexperienced, but curious about sex.
PEDOPHILES WORK AROUND CHILDREN:
The pedophile will often be employed in a position that involves daily contact with children. If not employed, he will put himself in a position to do volunteer work with children, often in a supervisory capacity such as sports coaching, contact sport instruction, unsupervised tutoring or a position where he has the opportunity to spend unsupervised time with a child.
THE TARGET CHILD:
The pedophile often seeks out shy, handicapped, and withdrawn children, or those who come from troubled homes or under privileged homes. He then showers them with attention, gifts, taunting them with trips to desirable places like amusement parks, zoo’s, concerts, the beach and other such places.
MANIPULATION OF THE INNOCENT:
Pedophiles work to master their manipulative skills and often unleash them on troubled children by first becoming their friend, building the the child’s self esteem. They may refer to the child as special or mature, appealing to their need to be heard and understood then entice them with adult type activities that are often sexual in content such as x-rated movies or pictures. They offer them alcohol or drugs to hamper their ability to resist activities or recall events that occurred.
It is not unusual for the child to develop feelings for the predator and desire their approval and continued acceptance.
They will compromise their innate ability to decipher good and bad behavior, ultimately justifying the criminal’s bad behavior out of sympathy and concern for the adults welfare. This is often compared to Stockholm Syndrome – when victims become attached emotionally to their captors.
THE SINGLE PARENT:
Many times pedophiles will develop a close relationship with a single parent in order to get close to their children. Once inside the home, they have many opportunities to manipulate the children — using guilt, fear, and love to confuse the child. If the child’s parent works, it offers the pedophile the private time needed to abuse the child.
Pedophiles work hard at stalking their targets and will patiently work to develop relationships with them. It is not uncommon for them to be developing a long list of potential victims at any one time.
Many of them believe that what they are doing is not wrong and that having sex with a child is actually “healthy” for the child.
Almost all pedophiles have a collection of pornography, which they protect at all costs. Many of them also collect “souvenirs” from their victims. They rarely discard either their porn or collections for any reason.
One factor that works against the pedophile is that eventually the children will grow up and recall the events that occurred. Often pedophiles are not brought to justice until such time occurs and victims are angered by being victimized and want to protect other children from the same consequences.
Laws such as Megan’s Law – a federal law passed in 1996 that authorizes local law enforcement agencies to notify the public about convicted sex offenders living, working or visiting their communities, have helped expose the pedophile and allows parents to better protect their children.
Grooming- What is grooming
- Grooming is when someone builds an emotional connection with a child to gain their trust for the purposes of sexual abuse, sexual exploitation or trafficking.
- Children and young people can be groomed online or in the real world, by a stranger or by someone they know – for example a family member, friend or professional.
- Groomers may be male or female. They could be any age.
- Many children and young people don’t understand that they have been groomed, or that what has happened is abuse.
How grooming happens – Grooming happens both online and in person. Groomers will hide their true intentions and may spend a long time gaining a child’s trust. They may also try to gain the trust of the whole family so they can be alone with the child. Groomers do this by:
- pretending to be someone they are not, for example saying they are the same age online
- offering advice or understanding
- buying gifts
- giving the child attention
- using their professional position or reputation
- taking them on trips, outings or holidays.
Using secrets and intimidation to control children
- Once they have established trust, groomers will exploit the relationship by isolating the child from friends or family and making the child feel dependent on them. They will use any means of power or control to make a child believe they have no choice but to do what they want.
- Groomers may introduce ‘secrets’ as a way to control or frighten the child. Sometimes they will blackmail the child, or make them feel ashamed or guilty, to stop them telling anyone about the abuse.
- Groomers can use social media sites, instant messaging apps including teen dating apps, or online gaming platforms to connect with a young person or child.
- They can spend time learning about a young person’s interests from their online profiles and then use this knowledge to help them build up a relationship.
- It’s easy for groomers to hide their identity online – they may pretend to be a child and then chat and become ‘friends’ with children they are targeting.
Groomers may look for:
- usernames or comments that are flirtatious or have a sexual meaning
- public comments that suggest a child has low self-esteem or is vulnerable.
Groomers don’t always target a particular child. Sometimes they will send messages to hundreds of young people and wait to see who responds. Groomers no longer need to meet children in real life to abuse them. Increasingly, groomers are sexually exploiting their victims by persuading them to take part in online sexual activity.
When sexual exploitation happens online, young people may be persuaded or forced, to:
- send or post sexually explicit images of themselves
- take part in sexual activities via a webcam or smartphone
- have sexual conversations by text or online.
Abusers may threaten to send images, video or copies of conversations to the young person’s friends and family unless they take part in other sexual activity. Images or videos may continue to be shared long after the sexual abuse has stopped.
Signs, symptoms and effects – The signs of grooming aren’t always obvious. Groomers will also go to great lengths not to be identified.
- be very secretive, including about what they are doing online
- have older boyfriends or girlfriends
- go to unusual places to meet friends
- have new things such as clothes or mobile phones that they can’t or won’t explain
- have access to drugs and alcohol.
In older children, signs of grooming can easily be mistaken for ‘normal’ teenage behaviour, but you may notice unexplained changes in behaviour or personality or inappropriate sexual behaviour for their age.
Things you may notice – Grooming can affect any child. However, vulnerable children, such as those with disabilities, may be more at risk than others. Groomers will exploit any vulnerability to increase the child or young person’s dependence on them, and reduce the likelihood of the child speaking out.
Trafficked children experience multiple forms of abuse and neglect
Physical, sexual and emotional violence are often used to control victims of trafficking. Children are also likely to be physically and emotionally neglected. Child trafficking is child abuse. Children are recruited, moved or transported and then exploited, forced to work or sold for:
- child sexual exploitation
- benefit fraud
- forced marriage
- domestic servitude such as cleaning, childcare, cooking
- forced labour in factories or agriculture
- criminal activity such as pickpocketing, begging, transporting drugs, working on cannabis farms, selling pirated DVDs, bag theft.
Children are tricked, forced or persuaded to leave their homes
- Traffickers use grooming techniques to gain the trust of a child, family or community.
- They may threaten families, but this isn’t always the case – in fact, the use of violence and threats to recruit victims has decreased (Europol, 2011).
- Traffickers may promise children education or persuade parents their child can have a better future in another place.
- Sometimes families will be asked for payment towards the ‘service’ a trafficker is providing – for example sorting out the child’s documentation prior to travel or organising transportation.
- Traffickers make a profit from the money a child earns through exploitation, forced labour or crime. Often this is explained as a way for a child to pay off a debt they or their family ‘owe’ to the traffickers.
- Although these are methods used by traffickers, coercion, violence or threats do not need to be proven in cases of child trafficking – a child cannot legally consent so child trafficking only requires evidence of movement and exploitation.
Traffickers work as a network of individuals or groups
How to spot child sexual exploitation
- Each year in England thousands of children and young people are raped or sexually abused. This includes children who have been abducted and trafficked, or beaten, threatened or bribed into having sex.
- Media coverage of police investigations into the crimes of Jimmy Savile and other prominent figures have brought child sexual abuse and exploitation to public attention.
- But while police tackle the problem, child sexual exploitation continues to happen every day. It’s important to understand what child sexual exploitation is and to be aware of warning signs that may indicate that a child you know is being exploited.
What is child sexual exploitation?
- Child sexual exploitation is when people use the power they have over young people to sexually abuse them. Their power may result from a difference in age, gender, intellect, strength, money or other resources.
- People often think of child sexual exploitation in terms of serious organised crime, but it also covers abuse within relationships and may involve informal exchanges of sex for something a child wants or needs, such as accommodation, gifts, cigarettes or attention. Some children are “groomed” through “boyfriends” who then force the child or young person into having sex with friends or associates.
- Sexual abuse covers penetrative sexual acts, sexual touching, masturbation and misuse of sexual images – for example on the internet or by mobile phone.
- Part of the challenge of tackling child sexual exploitation is that the children and young people involved may not understand that non-consensual sex (sex they haven’t agreed to) or forced sex – including oral sex – is rape.
Which children are affected?
Any child or young person can be a victim of sexual exploitation, but children are believed to be at greater risk of being sexually exploited if they:
- are homeless
- have feelings of low self-esteem
- have had a recent bereavement or loss
- are in care
- are a young carer
However, there are many more ways that a child may be vulnerable to sexual exploitation, and these are outlined in a report by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner. The signs of child sexual exploitation may be hard to spot, particularly if a child is being threatened. To make sure that children are protected, it’s worth being aware of the signs that might suggest a child is being sexually exploited.
Signs of grooming and child sexual exploitation
- going missing for periods of time or regularly returning home late
- skipping school or being disruptive in class
- appearing with unexplained gifts or possessions that can’t be accounted for
- experiencing health problems that may indicate a sexually transmitted infection
- having mood swings and changes in temperament
- using drugs and alcohol
- displaying inappropriate sexualised behaviours, such as over-familiarity with strangers, dressing in a sexualised manner or sending sexualised images by mobile phone (“sexting”)
- they may also show signs of unexplained physical harm such as bruising and cigarette burns
- helping children understand their bodies and sex in a way that is appropriate to their age
- developing an open and trusting relationship so that they feel they can talk to you about anything
- explaining the difference between safe secrets (such as a surprise party) and unsafe secrets (things that make them unhappy or uncomfortable)
- teaching children to respect family boundaries such as privacy in sleeping, dressing, and bathing
- teaching them self-respect and how to say no
- supervising internet and television use
Who is sexually exploiting children?
What to do if you suspect a child is being sexually exploited
What health professionals can do to help exploited children
How common is child sexual exploitation?
Dealing with child sex abuse