Communicating is one of the most important things about the Internet for kids and teenagers, especially on social networks and instant messengers. It’s an opportunity to chat with peers, make new friends, and keep in with the “in-crowd”. However, there are some predators who are only too willing to take advantage of this youthful sociability. For example, online grooming has become a growing cause for concern.
Online grooming is defined as deliberate actions to befriend or establish emotional contact with a child on the Internet in order to prepare them for sexual exploitation. The perpetrator poses as someone else to gain the child’s trust and suggests meeting in real life. The consequences for those who do so can be horrendous. Grooming is now directly linked to yet another Internet threat – sexting – where criminals communicate with a child in order to get sexually explicit photos or videos.
Kaspersky Lab surveys show that almost 90% of schoolchildren receive offers of friendship from strangers on social networking sites, and nearly half of them readily respond to such proposals, and even send such offers themselves.
Most children believe they will be safe as long as they don’t communicate with adults, but this is an erroneous assumption – anyone can pass themselves off as someone else on the Internet. Although this is obvious, about a third of teens admit they have gone on dates with virtual friends.
Others believe that not meeting up in the real world is the key to safe communication with strangers online. But this is also a mistake: technological developments mean teenagers can be sexually exploited even if there is no actual meeting.
Online communication allows criminals not only to hide behind a false identity but also to quickly and efficiently get what they want. It is no secret that conversations of an intimate nature can develop much faster online than in real life, even among peers. As a result, children do things on the Internet that they would never do offline, such as taking nude photos of themselves and sending them to people they hardly know.
For example, at the end of 2015 a former police officer was arrested in Uruguay. He reportedly posed as a teenage girl on Facebook and befriended other teens aged 10 to 16. After winning their trust, he asked for nude photos of the victims.
Nowadays, almost every device has a built-in camera, and photos or videos can be sent via any messenger. This means that no contact in real life is necessary in order to obtain intimate images from children. Among other things, the criminals often have a good understanding of child psychology and can convince a child that there is nothing wrong with what they are doing.
These photos and videos may become part of a pedophile’s “personal collection”, but more often they will appear on resources distributing child pornography. Sites containing child pornography have been actively fought for a long time, and it is very difficult to find any resources that are publicly available. However, this does not mean they do not exist. Child pornography remains a distinct area of criminal activity, and is obviously a lucrative business for the content producers.
There are also cases where a friendly “modeling agency manager” contacts a child. This does not necessarily have to be a man – “women” also participate in this line of business. Such examples are all too common in the work of the Children Online hotline. For example, a 12-year-old girl reported that she had been sending photos of other girls in underwear for some time to a woman supposedly working in the modeling business, and that she was paid in a social network currency.
The mother of another girl, aged nine, called Children Online and said that her daughter had posed nude with a friend on Skype for a woman who also claimed to be a representative of a modeling agency. Later she used these photos to blackmail the girls, forcing them to take more.
What can I do?
If your child has already experienced grooming or sexting, be sure to report it to the police – they are responsible for solving such crimes. Even if you don’t think this will help and that the criminal will never be found, dismiss those doubts and think of the other children who may suffer.
To avoid these types of threats, we recommend following a few rules:
- Teach your child from an early age not to talk to strangers or open the door to just anyone; explain that these rules also apply in the digital world. Ideally, your child should avoid personal contact with strangers on the Internet;
- Discuss with your child in advance all the potential threats of online communication and agree on how he or she will behave in specific situations;
- Explain to your child that under no circumstances should he or she send intimate photos to anyone, including to friends. A friend’s account may be hacked and any sexually explicit photos could be used by a third party. It is worth drawing a parallel with a real life situation – the child should understand that such behavior is similar to stripping naked in a crowd;
- Parents are also encouraged to become friends with their child on all social networking sites where he or she communicates so that they can monitor the list of “friends”. With the help of special programs, such as Kaspersky Safe Kids, you can automatically monitor your child’s list of friends and messages, as well as his or her phone and SMS contacts;
- Remember, the earlier you introduce these rules, the more likely it is your child will adhere to them.