Let’s talk about groomers, and I don’t mean for the dog. It might not have been a term you’ve heard before, but it has come up a lot recently in the media. Groomers are people, generally on the internet, who display predatory behavior. They build relationships with children or young people so they can manipulate and exploit them; often for sexual purposes. A groomer can be anyone regardless of age, gender, or race. In this day and age, with situations like this, it is really important to teach your children proper internet safety. Are there ways to find out if this is happening in your home or to you? What precautions can you take to avoid this and how can you break free of a groomer if it does happen?
Grooming can happen via online interaction and in the real world and, most of the time, a groomer is someone you know. It has been proven that 90% of children who are sexually abused know their abusers. Grooming is a tool that most predators have in their metaphorical toolbelt and it often occurs over a period of time. There are at least five predatory behaviors that every parent and oneself should look out for. Even though it is frightening to think about, it is a reality. What are these red-flags exactly?
The first sign of grooming is building trust and relationships. Groomers often try to build relationships with young people, in person, or over the internet. They do this by being friendly and asking a variety of questions like a child’s age and where they live. This relationship could be a friendship, a romance, a mentor or an authority figure. They can find and target children on social media, using their interests to gain their trust. The next signs of grooming are testing their limits and touching. This could be in the form of making sexual jokes or sharing sexually explicit material, testing the child’s comfort levels. The same can be said with touching if the child is ever exposed to this individual in real life or in private. Another behavior to look out for is intimidation. This is a tactic used by many abusers and child predators to scare their victims into submission, sometimes allowing them to keep their actions a secret. Enforcing secrets is another sign, telling children not to tell their parents about these interactions.
How can you prevent this? It is important to teach your children about these issues so they are aware and making sure they understand internet safety, such as avoiding talking to strangers online or giving out any personal information. You can also monitor your children and teen’s internet activity, or at least be aware of the online platforms they use; social media for example. However, it would be advisable to do this in a way that is not outwardly invasive or makes your child think you don’t trust them. It is important that your children know they can trust you with anything. You can also ask your children about the people they talk to online, how they know them, and what they talk about. There are a number of parental settings on your children’s devices and social media that you can utilize for their safety.
Demetria Slyt is a Dakota Student Opinion Writer. She can be reached at [email protected]