"Grooming": the term stands for intentional, strategically planned sexual initiation online. The target group is children and young people. How do the actors proceed? Why about fake profiles? And what can parents do about it?
"Don’t believe anyone who assures you of confidentiality on the Net. There is no confidentiality on the Internet."Michael Sandkamp has this warning for children and young people who are eager to learn and experiment on the web, in social networks, messaging services, video portals and online gaming.
A warning that Friederike Bartmann addresses to parents in a slightly different form. "Sit down in front of the computer with your child and try something out together with him or her. Then you stay in conversation with it and know where it is at the moment."
Children are "more responsive
Children and adolescents are more susceptible to dubious offers, because they are searching for themselves, exploring boundaries, because the forbidden arouses their curiosity and they are impressionable. Perpetrators with fake profiles – Sandkamp prefers to speak of "actors" – are on the Net for three reasons, he says:
- Because they deliberately and strategically planned a sexual initiation seek, experts speak of "grooming".
- Because they want to mob people they know under false profiles or cell phone numbers, the technical term is "cyberbullying".
- Or because they want to post political or other hate comments on the net without being held accountable for it.
Bartmann deals with grooming and cyber bullying at the Catholic State Working Group for Child and Youth Protection NW in Munster, Germany. Sandkamp cooperates, because the consultant for parents and school in the Episcopal General Vicariate sits on the board of the ecclesiastical association. His focus is on prevention.
Children do not talk openly about grooming
Young people spend almost seven hours a day on the Internet. That’s three times as much as older citizens, according to a recent study by the accounting firm Ernst&Young. Although "unpleasant acquaintances" that children and young people make via their smartphones tend to be low, according to a 2016 study by the Medienpadagogischer Forschungsverbund Sudwest (Media Education Research Association Southwest). Only two percent of cell phone owners have been sent content that scared them or made them feel uncomfortable afterwards.
The study covers minors between six and 13 years old. Nevertheless, Bartmann and Sandkamp agree that children do not necessarily talk openly about grooming. Certainly not with the parents.
"Send me a photo"
Bartmann describes a typical initiation with the goal of grabbing photos of victims, making contact or even arranging a meeting. The actors are usually men, sometimes older, sometimes the same age. Target groups are girls as well as boys.
Friederike Bartmann is a consultant at the Catholic State Working Group for Child and Youth Protection NW. Michael Sandkamp works in the Parents and Schools Department at the Episcopal Vicariate General in Munster, Germany. | Photos: private
First step is that the actor pretends to be the same age, under a false name. Bartmann: "He pretends, for example, to work for a modeling agency."In the second step, he checks the identity of the child, his pictures, links, age and gender. Already coming: "Send me a photo of yourself. " – "Turn on the webcam. "
Manipulations and blackmail
In phase three he builds trust. If a child is not doing well at school, he is sympathetic: "Don’t hang your head. I am also not so super." or "But you look great for that . " The first nude half-picture is requested – "still with bra," says Bartmann. Soon he demands one without.
"In the fourth phase, the dependencies, manipulations, assaults and blackmails begin."At this point, at the latest, switch communication to channels that are safer for the actor: Whatsapp and Skype.
How to protect children from grooming?
Children and adolescents often perceive sexual initiation on the Net as a game at first," says Michael Sandkamp from the Vicariate General. Making it so difficult for them to speak up about it to parents, teachers or friends. "They blame themselves for what happened, for example, because they pretended to be 14, but are still twelve."
In addition, adults have usually warned not to send personal and certainly not erotic photos. Children therefore usually know that they have not acted correctly. This makes them additionally vulnerable to blackmail by the adult actor on the net who wants the pictures.
"Open contact with parents is the best protection"
Troubled teenagers are more responsive to fake affection online than kids who are doing well. They are susceptible to praise, admiration, to someone taking time for them, says Friederike Bartmann of the Catholic State Working Group for Child and Youth Protection NW.
"The best protection against grooming is good and open contact between parents and children."Friederike Bartmann has more tips that you should consider.
– Agree computer rules with children: Never turn on the webcam with strangers.
– Do not send photos with location information and be very sparing with personal information on the Internet.
– Never arrange a meeting with a stranger or take an adult with you to do so.
– Immediately break off unpleasant contacts. Teach the children: "You may say no."
– There is no confidentiality on the net, even if that is assured. Therefore, do not believe anyone who assures confidential handling of pictures.
– Parents should spend time with children in front of the computer so that they can see and understand what options there are to navigate the web.
– Save evidence of unpleasant contacts through screen shots (screenshots) and report the case to the operator.
– Preventing contact with an unpleasant actor by blocking your own access, creating a new profile and no longer using the old one.