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European Online Grooming Project

Boy at computer
Researchers: Caroline Turley
Published: March 2012

Aim

We wanted to understand online grooming across Europe by looking at the behaviour of both offenders and the young people who are groomed. The project also examined how young people are chosen by offenders and whether technology facilitates online grooming. Findings were used to inform intervention programmes to tackle this problem.

Findings

The behaviour of groomers

  • The process of online grooming was neither unitary nor linear. Instead, it was cyclical and involved a pattern of adoption, maintenance, relapse, and readoption.
  • The behaviour of groomers varied widely. The nature and extent of preparation, time taken to groom a young person; modes of contact used (such as chatrooms, social networking sites and webcams); and the intensity or style of contact, all differed between offenders.

The role of technology

Online groomers maintained anonymity online by using multiple hardware devices, ISP addresses and proxy servers.  However, factors such as the relative ease child abuse images could be acquired and young people contacted, alongside the feeling of being hidden online contributed to cognitive dissonance, allowing groomers to justify their offending behaviour.

From the accounts of offenders, young people who had been victims of online grooming fell into two broad categories, distinguished by presenting online with one or more of the following beaviours:

  • vulnerable –– low self-esteem; lonely; some ‘loyalty’ to the offender they were in contact with
  • risk taking – disinhibited; feeling in control of the encounter; open to blackmail due to their apparent ‘complicity’ in the interaction.

It was clear that some of the generic esafety messages delivered in schools and online were having an impact on young people’s behaviour.  However, young people were clear that the way esafety sessions were delivered was as important as the message itself.  If providers, teachers, parents and/or carers were perceived as ‘anti-Internet’ safety messages were interpreted with a degree of scepticism.

Methodology

We used a number of methods to collect data: a scoping project, research interviews with 33 male offenders convicted of online grooming, and twelve focus groups with young people in the UK, Belgium and Italy.

Read the final report

Read the annual report

Read the scoping report

Read the executive summary

Download the literature review