From 2002 to 2005, I had an online relationship with a man I believed to be two years my senior. In actual fact, he was 35 years older than me. We continued talking even after our ‘virtual breakup’ and it took me 12 years to discover that the man I got on with so well was in fact a complete lie.
I considered myself Internet savvy. I thought that because this man didn’t fit the ‘checklist’ of online predator traits, that he was really who he said he was. I thought that no one would maintain a lie for 12 years. I was wrong.
Here are 9 of the most dangerous myths that I believed (and many other people do too) about online grooming and online predators.
1. They always want to meet.
Some do. Some are much more interested in the online titillation, ego boost and sexual contact (such as photos and videos).
Studies show that it’s surprisingly common for certain types of predators to regularly talk online to young people without ever trying to meet – or even going so far as to refuse to meet when asked.
2. Everything happens very fast.
Although some online predators move fast, others may be happy to talk for months or even years. They may be happy to talk for hours, weeks or years and build a solid longterm friendship or romantic online relationship. The longer you know them, the less you’ll think that they have an ulterior motive. They enjoy building an ongoing dependency.
3. They’ll use obviously fake images.
Sometimes it’s easy to spot a fake picture, but not always. In my case, the man used pictures of one of his own sons. This meant that the pictures aged appropriately and as they were personal pictures, they were untraceable in public Internet image searches. With so many images shared online, it’s relatively easy to steal a person’s entire identity. This is known as catfishing.
4. They’re just in it for the sexual content.
Sure, that may be their main goal, but some online predators also consider online interactions as real relationships with real feelings. This can be even more conflicting for the adolescent involved, as they seek to protect the person who has groomed them, just as they would a real boyfriend or girlfriend.
5. They want to be kept a secret from everyone.
They are often wary of people who may recognise them or expose them, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t happy to talk to peers of the person they groom. In my case, at least 3 of my friends often talked online with the man who groomed me.
6. It always involves money.
When people think about online fraud, grooming or impersonation, they usually think of money first of all. Sometimes it’s money being taken from people, while other times it’s about online gifts, money or phone credits being given to children. This doesn’t always happen and often, no real commodities change hands at all.
7. If you’re tech savvy, you won’t fall for them.
I’d been using the Internet since I was 9 years old. When I met ‘Richard’ at age 15, I was fairly confident in my Internet skills. I felt sure that I could tell if someone was a real person or not, although looking back, my expectations of predator appearances was deeply flawed.
8. You’ll be able to tell by their age.
Some online predators are honest about their age; others lie about every detail of their life. Studies indicate that an increasing number are pretending to be teenagers to lure real teenagers into doing things they wouldn’t normally do with an adult.
9. They’re just interested in young kids.
Although the traditional idea of a pedophile applies to younger children, the majority of young people on the Internet are ages 10-12 and older. Until the age of 16 or 18 (depending on location and crime), there are a range of laws which protect children from being approached for sexual contact and even acts such as sending them a naked photo are illegal.
Interested in more real statistics about online grooming? These indepth studies provide a lot of perspective on why and how people groom adults and adolescents online.