Investigator Shares 6 Steps Predators Take to Groom Kids Online
It’s become commonplace nowadays to see toddlers with iPads, and elementary school aged kids with cell phones. The devices are used to play games and educational apps, to keep in touch with parents when at school or activities, and of course, eventually comes social media. While taking photos or videos on a phone and being able to send them directly from that device might have sounded preposterous a decade ago, today it’s the norm.
Commander of the Internet Crimes against Children Task Force for Mississippi, Jay Houston says, “We’ve come into this normalcy that we take pictures of our whole life and post it online. It’s normal to take pictures and send them to anyone and everyone.”
It’s also normal for kids who have a presence on social media to be asked to send photos to their friends and sometimes to strangers. Houston adds, “All kids that are on social media at some point are going to come across sexually explicit material or a request from someone asking them to take sexually explicit photos or videos.”
Predators often pose as children to build relationships in hopes of obtaining this material from them. Many parents think their child wouldn’t fall for a scam, or their child knows better than to send a photo to a stranger. But do they?
We talked further with Houston, who investigates high-tech crimes and teaches cellular device forensics, to describe just how a predator might gain the trust of a child to begin sexploitation and commit child sexual abuse.
6 Steps Predators Take When Grooming Kids Online
1. Reach out to the child and start grooming. Usually the predator sets up a fake account and poses as a child; then some form of grooming starts. The predator may comment on a social media post saying something like, “You look nice. I’d like to talk to you.” Investigators see these types of comments on Whisper, or a direct message on Instagram, Facebook Messenger, or Snapchat.
2. Getting to know the child. Once the predator gains the child’s trust, they start chatting. Common things predators ask are open-ended questions: What are you into? Do you play sports? What grade are you in? What’s your worst subject? Do you have pets?
They specifically ask these questions to gain any piece of information that will allow them to secure the child’s trust and align their responses with the child’s —“Oh I don’t like math either, it’s awful.” This makes the child feel like they’ve found a friend with a common interest.
3. Private message. After they chat for a while about general subjects, the child predator will then move the conversation to the family dichotomy in a private chat. Usually they ask things like: Are your parents married? Divorced? How many brothers and sisters do you have? Who do you live with? At this point, the predator is trying to gain information about the child’s personal life and how involved their caretakers are.
4. Sexual conversation. Once the predator has established a personal relationship with the child, they then move on to more suggestive and sexual questions: Do you have a boyfriend or girlfriend? Are you straight or gay? Have you ever had sex before?
5. Sexual pictures. How does a predator ask for a photo? Simple. “I sure would like to see a picture of you!” The child usually responds, with, “Like what?” And that’s when the predator begins asking for anything they can get the child to send them.
6. Sexual videos. This is where sexploitation begins. Once the predator gains the child’s trust, they’ll have the child send a photo in a bathing suit, or something even more inappropriate; and then will use it against the child. They’ll say something like, “If you don’t send me a video of you doing this, I’m going to send these photos to your parents, pastor, soccer coach, or trusted adult.” The child is “sexploited” into complying out of fear, and falls victim to sexual abuse.
It’s important for all parents to understand how a predator works in order to thoroughly protect their children. Houston says, “Pay attention to what kids are doing online and go through their apps and messages. If you don’t teach your children, they are going to learn from someone that could be a sex offender.”
Houston also adds this wisdom.
“Parents would never give their kids keys to a vehicle without any driver’s education or practice and say, ‘Have fun!’ So why are we allowing kids to navigate the online world without any direction whatsoever? Think of the things we do physically to protect our family: we live in gated communities, have a house alarm and Ring systems. But we allow that one line that comes into our house that opens kids up to the world…to the school websites and all of the most egregious people in the world? Parents, we have to pay attention and give direction, our kids deserve that.”
Child Rescue Coalition is proud to award Jay Houston with the distinction of being one of our 2020 Instructors of the Year. This award is to recognize his achievements in the training of our CPS Technology and for his dedication to the protection of children. You too can protect a child – a donation of $25 is all it takes. To help CRC continue fighting for children, please visit childrescuecoalition.org/donate.