Tuesday September 20th: Our Light-bearer Mission
September 20, 2022
Wednesday September 21st: Mercy brings transformation and salvation
September 21, 2022

Child psychologist warns of online grooming, child exploitation

By Daniel Young

Have you ever sat with a young child and been surprised by their intelligence? Questions they may ask, or things they say that reveal how their mind works that makes you stop in your tracks? Have you ever asked your son, daughter, niece, or nephew to “give you a hand” with your phone because you just can’t seem to understand what is going on? It’s quite likely that you have.

The younger generation is growing up with an acute sense of an increasingly digital world. Many of our daily activities are based around computers, and most of us have a computer that is with us 24/7 in the form of our mobile phone.

With the advent of high-speed internet, ease of communication has become almost instant, and accessibility to each other is easier, more convenient, and faster than it has ever been. In many ways we are living in the best of times. Where there is good however, we should also be aware of the bad.

One of the worst things to come out of this development in technology is the rise of human trafficking, sexual exploitation and grooming of young children. Dr Karen Moore, a clinical child psychologist, recently held an online seminar regarding these issues on behalf of the Franciscan Institute for Personal and Family Development, a ministry of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mothers.

A specialist in the field of child sexual abuse and an early member of the trauma team at the Franciscan Institute, Dr Moore has had many years of experience dealing with child victims of abuse and exploitation.

She says that grooming is “the deliberate creation of an apparent relationship to get the young person to the point of sexual exploitation and possibly trafficked.” Stressing the word ‘apparent’ to drive home the fact that what is being developed with these young people is more than what it seems to be.

She continues, “… trafficking doesn’t only mean the physical movement of a person”, it can happen from the home remotely, using pictures and videos that are then used illegally to earn money.

The implications of developing an “apparent relationship” should not be overlooked. Perpetrators of these types of crimes deliberately manipulate their interactions to gain the young person’s trust, often portraying a persona of a “relatable adult”.

Dr Moore describes it as a process of exploitation where the perpetrator’s main drive can be analogous to that of a businessperson. Grooming therefore is a tool used in a process by these perpetrators to exploit minors for financial profit – a process which, can have detrimental repercussions on the mental health of the victim.

Perpetrators often manipulate the victim by assuming a close tie to the minor. Dr Moore explains they often portray themselves as a mother or father figure, or something similar, to develop that trusting element in the mind of the child being groomed. The goal at the end of the day is commodifying that person “for financial gain or personal satisfaction”.

When looking at this from the perspective of a business model as Dr Moore describes, we can see the cause for the drive of the perpetrator. We can also understand the perpetrator’s goal is of utmost importance to them and therefore, they will go to whatever means necessary.

This is a mentality to which most businesspeople can relate but the stark difference here is that the perpetrators of these crimes spend most of their time devising ways and means of exploitation. They frequent social media sites, video game chatrooms and forums to gain common ground for the process to start. These individuals frequently peruse internet sites to gain access to potential victims.

As Dr Moore says, “you might have an older individual who pretends to be a teenager” pretending to have the same views and values.

Some of the steps that these perpetrators use in this process of abuse and exploitation include secrecy which places the potential victim and perpetrator in a personal “bubble”, establishing an increased dependence which Dr Moore describes as especially dangerous if the minor sees it as a compliment.

Crossing boundaries is what Dr Moore describes as a trap for the victim of these crimes, as the minor has been crossing boundaries from the start of the relationship and therefore it gets difficult for the minor to end the process on their own. Feelings of shame and guilt are common in these cases, and is another tool used by the perpetrator to further the abuse.

How can we protect our children? Dr Moore says look for the signs: increased use of devices, increased secretive behaviour, secret social media accounts, drastic change in behaviour, depressed mood, more aggressive, self-harm, and substance abuse can all be signs.

What makes minors vulnerable? Lack of a friend group, family difficulties, poor self-esteem, lonely and unsupervised, history of trauma.

Dr Moore describes ways in which we can help prevent these things from taking over: technology audits for your children, good relationships with others, review privacy setting on devices, establishing rules for technology.

With the advent of the internet on our devices we are not in a private space anymore. We must take care of our loved ones and the younger generation who may be especially vulnerable given the rise in the interaction with and through the internet.