Cybergrooming often begins as a seemingly harmless chat conversation and, in the worst cases, leads to the sexual abuse of children. In order to identify dangerous online contact at an early stage, it is important to know the strategy of the perpetrators.
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What is cybergrooming?
"Never go with a stranger" – this is a phrase most children know and probably take to heart. However, when the encounter takes place on the Internet rather than on the way to school, children are far less wary of strangers. More and more frequently, perpetrators (mostly male adults) seek contact with children and young people online, gain their trust, demand nude photos and sexually harass them. In the worst case, sexual abuse even occurs. This procedure – preparing for sexual acts online – is called cybergrooming.
What is cybergrooming??
The German Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection defines cybergrooming as "the targeted approaching of children on the Internet with the goal of initiating sexual contact". The term comes from the English language and is derived from the word "to groom" (to groom, prepare). "Cyber" stands for the online world, the meeting place of perpetrator and potential victim.
How does cybergrooming work??
In most cases of cybergrooming, perpetrators follow a similar pattern: In social networks such as Snapchat and TikTok or in online games such as "Fortnite," perpetrators specifically seek contact with minors. In order to hide their true identity, many cybergroomers create an invented profile (fake account). In it, they usually pretend to be the same age or older teenagers.
Perpetrators elicit trust from girls and boys by complimenting them or pretending to have the same interests. Cybergroomers often accomplish this quite quickly. The dangerous thing about cybergrooming is that it happens where children tend to feel safe – on the computer in the child’s room or on the smartphone, surrounded by friends. The protective mechanisms are not as effective here as they are in a real encounter. Children and teens are quicker to disclose personal information.
Once contact is made and trust is built, perpetrators try to lure their victims into a private online space to bypass the platforms’ security measures. This could be, for example, a private chat to which no other people have access. From here, cybergroomers quickly steer the conversation to sexual topics. They ask minors about their appearance, sexual experiences and ask them to send intimate photos.
Once the first photo or video is sent, perpetrators use it to extort further images or actions. In addition, perpetrators demand that children and teens keep quiet about the abuse. To this end, they threaten, for example, violence to friends of the victims. Names and information cybergroomers also got from the web. In the worst case, perpetrators persuade their victims to meet them in person, leaving the children and young people vulnerable to the perpetrators.