A 2016 study by Professor Lorenzo-Dus of Swansea University, found that online predators can groom children in as little as 20 minutes. They are professionals in their own right, and have mastered various techniques to seek out the vulnerable and naive. While this isn’t limited to those younger in age, they are often the ones who we hear about as they are still innocent enough to report or mention it to someone else.
Anyone being targeted by an online predator might not realize what is happening at first. The predator will make them feel comfortable and understood. They will tell them exactly what they want to hear and if they realize that they are vulnerable and or emotionally unstable, then that is more of an invitation for them to prey. It is only when it’s too late, and they have befriended them to the extent that they start convincing them to do things they wouldn’t normally do with anyone else, be it in person or virtually, that they may realize they’re in too deep.
Here are a few phrases that have been used to trick an unsuspecting victim into dropping their guard and winning the trust of an online predator:
1. “Let’s switch to another app or create another account so we can talk privately”
The intention here is to get victims to move to an app that may not be mainstream or monitored by a parent or guardian. Alternatively, they may ask a victim to set up disappearing messages or use an app that does not keep chat history.
2. “You must be the best looking girl/boy in your school”
Flattery is one of the most common ways predators connect with victims they want to target.
3. “Your friends and parents don’t understand you the way I do”
Predators often tell their victims exactly what they know they want to hear vs. what is best for them to hear. They are in for the long game, and will be very patient when conversing with their victims. Often being sympathetic and expressing empathy to win the trust of their victim.
4. “Don’t you trust me?”
A little bit or reverse psychology goes a long way and predators have a unique way of making their victims feel guilt for even having a doubt of not trusting them. This is a common response for many questions that don’t get the ideal response from the predators.
5. “It’s just one photo, what’s the harm?”
Often this is followed by, “I sent you one, why can’t you send me one”. The predator is often the first to engage in the sharing of or engaging in sexting activities, though often they will use fake pictures or videos. Unsuspecting victims are now left with more guilt that they have seen something intimate and are coerced into feeling that they must oblige and reciprocate.
6. “I’ll never share anything you send me with anyone else”
Another tactic to build trust by the predator, and to continue to build pressure on the victim to engage in an activity that they would not normally do.
7. “You don’t want anyone to see what you’ve already sent me”
Once this statement is made, a virtual bondage has been created and if the victim isn’t strong enough to speak out, they can remain under the control and blackmail of the predator for a very long time. The initial conversations of sympathy and trust quickly turn into treats and you have a case of the victim being trafficked right within the confines of their home.
What to do if you become a victim of an online predator
Although easier said than done, if someone is threatening you or have convinced you to do something that you won’t have done normally, you can follow these steps.
- Do not do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. If someone is forcing you to engage in an activity that you know is wrong or makes you feel uncomfortable, use the following responses to try to get out of the situation
- My battery is dying, I have to go
- My internet seems to be giving problems, I have to come offline
- My parents/brother/sister are calling for me, I need to see what they want
- Stop sharing content with them and limit your communications with the intention of stopping. You don’t want to scare the predator off at the same time and cause them to react and share the content you would have given to them.
- Tell a trusted adult what has been happening, no matter what the person online says they will do if you tell. Your only way out of this is with the assistance of your friends and family.
- Find a friend or family member you can talk with more to replace the void of no longer talking to someone you didn’t really know in the first place, but felt so comfortable with
- If there has been threats to share the photos or videos to the public, or if they are asking for money to stay quiet then you should immediately report this to the Cyber and Social Media Unit of the TTPS. See this article on Reporting a Cyber Crime for details.