Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Responding to Online Child Sexual Grooming: An Industry Perspective

Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Responding to Online Child Sexual Grooming: An Industry Perspective

Article excerpt

Foreword | As the internet and other forms of information and communications technology advances, opportunities for child sexual offenders and other financially-motivated cybercriminals to sexually exploit children will increase. Official statistics here and overseas indicate the number of investigations and prosecutions remain small but are increasing rapidly. This paper discusses non-legislative measures to address the issue of online child exploitation, particularly child grooming. Using knowledge of offending patterns and encouraging effective coordination and collaboration by government and private-sector entities enables law enforcement to develop strategies to address the problem. Social-networking sites are currently working with law enforcement agencies to protect children through the removal of known offenders from their websites. The financial services industry is assisting to eliminate offenders' access to financial-payment systems. These types of joint and transnational initiatives reduce opportunities for, and the detection of, online child exploitations. Although it is well recognised that educational preventative strategies are required to raise awareness amongst young people and children, it is less clear what would be effective in encouraging them to report suspicious or explicit contact or material to parents and authorities.

Judy Putt

General Manager, Research

Recent advances in information and communications technologies (ICT) have enabled adults with an inappropriate sexual interest in children to establish contact with them, to develop relationships and to groom potential victims for sexual abuse (Krone 2005). Of particular relevance to this discussion is the potential for individuals to make contact with children for sexual gratification or to groom them for subsequent meetings during which sexual activity may be undertaken. The dangers of online child exploitation have received widespread attention. Online child (sexual) grooming offences have been introduced in a range of countries, including Australia, although there are jurisdictions that have yet to introduce legislation to criminalise online child exploitation including online child grooming.

While a legislative approach is useful to keep children safe in the online environment, it is unlikely that law enforcement alone can cause a noticeable reduction in the online child -grooming statistics, making non-legislative responses crucial in improving internet safety for children. This paper reviews and discusses various non-legislative measures, such as initiatives by those that operate social-networking sites and the financial services industry, to deal with the issue of online child exploitation, particularly online child grooming.

Online child (sexual) grooming

Child grooming, a premeditated behaviour intended to secure the trust and cooperation of children prior to engaging in sexual conduct, is a process that commences with sexual predators choosing a location or target area likely to be attractive to children (AIC 2008). A process of grooming then commences during which offenders take a particular interest in their child victim to make them feel special with the intention of gaining their trust. As trust is developed between the child victim and the offender, offenders then seek to desensitise child victims to sexual conduct by introducing a sexual element into the relationship.

All this is able to be achieved with ease in the online environment. Large numbers of children now use the internet. In one US study, 55 percent of surveyed young people aged between 12 and 17 years were found to have used online social-networking sites (Lenhart & Madden 2007). Sexual offenders are also using the internet to locate children for criminal purposes, including the creation of pornography, sex tourism, making contact with child prostitutes and establishing contacts for subsequent sexual assault.

Online sexual solicitations by adults targeting children are of great concern. …

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