At Saprea we spend a lot of time talking about perpetrators of child sexual abuse and grooming patterns to watch out for. In our technology-driven world, perpetrators can utilize technology to their advantage.

Below are 5 stages of grooming that online perpetrators commonly follow:


Friendship Forming Stage

Just as it sounds, this is the stage where a perpetrator will make contact and try to build a friendship. They often target children and teens with screen names that make them sound young or that sound sexual in some way. They use small talk to gather information about interests, age, gender, etc. The perpetrator may revisit this stage frequently through the grooming process to keep the “friendship” going.


Relationship Forming Stage

At this stage, a perpetrator will use what they learned in the previous stage to reveal how similar they are to the child or teen. They’ll be empathetic and do their best to become a confidante, showing more compassion than anyone else in their life in an attempt to be the person the child or teen goes to with problems.


Risk Assessment Stage

This is usually the stage where a perpetrator will begin to push boundaries. They’ll see if the child or teen will disclose their location, their schedule, how often they are left alone, etc. This will help them decide whether or not they are likely to be caught if they continue to target this particular child or teen. This is also the stage where they will introduce sexual topics to see the reaction of the child or teen.


Exclusivity Stage

At this point the perpetrator only wants the child or teen to trust them. This is when the perpetrator will try to make sure that their relationship is “exclusive” and make it clear that no one can know what’s going on between the two of them. They’ll use coercion, guilt, or even threats to ensure that what’s happening remains a secret. The perpetrator will begin discussing sexual topics more explicitly.


Sexual Stage

Once trust is established and unquestioned, the perpetrator will let their intentions be known. They’ll be more explicit by sending pornography, asking about the child or teen’s past sexual experiences, and detail what sexual acts they’d like to engage in. It’s at this point where the discussion will lead to meeting in person where the sexual abuse will escalate to a physical point.

Depending on the age, education, and ignorance level of the child, these stages can progress quickly or over a few weeks or months and typically escalate much faster than in-person perpetration. While there are many similarities between online and in-person perpetrators, the biggest difference is that online perpetrators are more likely to be a stranger. They’ll find your child through games they play, apps they use, or social media they frequent. It’s important to keep open communication with your child or teen about who they talk to online and what the nature of their relationship is.

Because online filters don’t have a “block all potential perpetrators” option, make sure that you and your child talk openly and honestly about what’s happening online and when they should come to you.

O’Connell, R. (2003). A typology of cyber sexploitation and online grooming practices.Preston, England: University of Central Lancashire.
Whittle, H., Hamilton-Giachritsis, C., Beech, A., & Collings, G. (2013). A review of online grooming: Characteristics and concerns. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 18(1), 62–70.

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