There are at least three different types of online sexual predator, a European study of convicted online groomers has found.
Early results from the European Online Grooming Project identify online groomers as ‘Distorted Attachment’, ‘Adaptable Offender’ and ‘Hyper-Sexual’.
“This new evidence sounds an urgent warning that even more needs to be done to help young people stay safe online,” says lead researcher Stephen Webster.
“The adoption by social networking sites of a panic button and the work being done to raise young people’s awareness of online risk is excellent, but this research tells us that taking a ‘one size fits all’ approach is no longer enough.”
The Distorted Attachment groomer believes he is in a romantic and consenting relationship with the child, doesn’t use indecent images of children and doesn’t try to hide his identity. This type of groomer tends to spend a long time socialising with a young person online, getting to know them before arranging a meeting in real life.
The Adaptable Offender often uses many different identities online, adapting his style to the child he’s in contact with. He views the people he is grooming as sexually mature and may or may not use indecent images. He won’t necessarily attempt to meet his victims in real life.
The Hyper-Sexual type of groomer tends to collect huge numbers of indecent images of children. He will be in touch with other sexual offenders online, but tends to have little or no interest in meeting his victim in real life. He’ll probably use different identities or a sexually explicit profile name and photo, and tends to make fast contact with his victim.
One worrying finding was that many young people were behaving in what could be seen as a sexual way, without realising the likely effects.
“One of the concerning findings was the extent to which young people use sexual screen names and photos of themselves,” says professor Antonia Bifulco, a lead researcher in the project from Kingston University.
“They often don’t realise these will be available across cyberspace and remain there for a long time acting as a magnet for groomers.”
The researchers will now host workshops with young people, parents and teachers to develop recommendations for how education about online safety can be improved in light of the new findings.
“We want the launch of these findings to mark the start of a new phase in how we respond to this issue,” says Webster.