Online Predators and Online Grooming

Talking to strangers online  

The term online stranger refers to anyone you are in contact with online but you have never met in person. Even if you have been chatting with a person for days or even weeks, if they are unknown personally to you, they will still be considered a stranger.  

Although talking to strangers online has many benefits such as allowing you to meet new people and create new friendships, it is important to be aware of the risks and be cautious with any interaction you have with an online stranger.  

Not everyone is who they say they are online. When you meet a person in real life you will immediately recognize if they are male or female, old or young, foreign or local, etc. Online however, it is much easier to pretend you are something you are not. There are online predators who take advantage of this and disguise as different people so they can gain your trust, while their real intention is gaining access to you for sexual purposes. They may tell you things you want to hear, offer gifts or make promises that will make you want to be in contact with them.  

The process of befriending a child online for sexual purposes is called online grooming.  Child sex offenders use this method to gain a child’s trust and make them believe they can trust them. By manipulating a child’s feelings, it becomes easier to abuse a child and also maintain control over them. 

Where can the online predators find you? 

Communication online happens in various forms – through social media, chat rooms, messaging apps, online games and more. The same platforms you use to stay in contact with your friends, are the same platforms that online predators use when they want to reach out to a child. 

With any online account you have, make sure you are setting the privacy settings so that only friends and people you know can contact you and see your information. You should also make sure that any information you write about yourself does not expose any personal details. To learn more about setting your privacy settings press here. 

If you find yourself communicating with a stranger online, remember the following rules of what you should and should-not do to help you stay safe: 

You should NOT: 

  • Give away any personal information about yourself. This can make you more vulnerable to online predators and allow them to use this information to groom you and gain access to you.  
  • Send pictures of yourself to a stranger online, especially if they are intimate. Pictures are personal and should only be shared with people you know and trust, while intimate photos should not be uploaded or shared at all. Once an image is uploaded online it can reach the hands of anyone, be exposed publicly or used in ways you never planned on.  
  • Accept gifts from a stranger you only met online. You don’t know the real intentions of a stranger giving you gifts online. They may do it as part of a grooming process to gain your trust or they may make you feel obligated to give them something in return in a later stage and use this for their advantage.  
  • Enter unknown links or open suspicious files which were sent to you by strangers online. You may be exposed to disturbing material or viruses when clicking on unknown sources online. Always be careful when entering unknown areas of the web or opening unknown files. 
  • Meet in person a stranger you just met online on your own. It can be dangerous meeting people you met only online since they might not be who they say they are. If you do decide to meet a person you just met online, make sure you tell a trusted adult about it, meet in a public place, and best to have someone along with you.  

You should: 

  • Be critical of the people you meet online. Knowing that not everyone who is friendly online has good intentions or is someone you can trust; can help you be cautious with any online interaction with a stranger.   
  • Be aware of suspicious behavior online. Look out for any signs of behavior that seem inappropriate. For instance, a stranger online is asking you a lot of personal questions, has information on their profile that does not match what they are saying, is offering to give you things you want supposedly with no return, wants to talk privately, talks about sexual topics and tries to convince you to as well, etc.  
  • Report anyone who is harassing you or sending you inappropriate material online. If you or anyone you know has been sexually exploited online, you should report them immediately. This will help stop the abuse and prevent others from getting harmed.