In direct grooming for offline encounter cases, the goal is to meet the minor in real life for sex. Sometimes the minor engages voluntarily in sexual activities, although “consent” is not a defense against statutory rape in the US if an adult is involved. [see more on the laws] Some teens have been murdered, and others kidnapped and tortured. [we have video on one murder and text from one victim on the kidnapping and torture] But a vast majority are just molested and return home, often keeping this a secret from those who can help them. They are embarrassed and take the blame for what happened, often feeling that they have “led him on.”
A vast majority of sexual predators both in real life and online are men. But we are seeing a growth in female predators grooming young boys online. They often connect with them and groom them on massively multi-player online games, especially the slower-paced role playing games when they have a greater opportunity to build a trusted relationship with their target.
The reaction to older females preying on younger boys is often mixed. While many recognize that this is sexual predation and a serious crime, others think it is not as serious as females being sexually exploited by adult males. In addition, few realize that young boys are almost as often the target of online male sexual predators as their female counterparts. It is estimated that approximately 1/3 of the online sexual exploitation victims are boys.
Because of the lack of understanding about the frequency and the serious nature of sexual exploitation of young males, many networks fail to protect their male users as carefully as they may protect their female users. That is wrong and has to change.
The anatomy of a sexual predator: Most Internet sexual predators don’t look the way we expect them to look. They are typically between the ages of 24 and 50. The may be professionals and well-educated. They may not have molested minors previously and often do this because it’s so easy and they believe they are less likely to be caught. They may start by just watching minors engage in discussions with their friends, or look for sexual banter between minors. Then they may dip their toe into the water by reaching out in a non-predatorial way to see what happens. If this goes well, they may begin the grooming process.
The Internet and digital technologies make it easy for sexual predators to connect with young minors, learn about what grooming ploys might engage them and find ways to build a close relationship with them outside of the parents’ supervision. But, with the right combination of education, privacy tools and moderation best practices, all young people can be kept safe from the risk of meeting online sexual predators in real life.
Remember that sexual predation, even if the minor chooses to consent to the actions, is a serious crime. And network administrators and moderators must be vigilant to spot grooming early and report sexual predators to the authorities.