In the Media

Paedophiles 'groom' children for sex online in just eight minutes

PUBLISHED March 29, 2012

In a new warning for parents, criminologists discovered that online predators are exploiting an array of techniques to "break the ice" with children aged as young as 12.

The Middlesex University, London, study found that within less than three minutes of web-based chatting, sex offenders "cut to the chase" and turn the conversation to sexual-related topics.

The four-year study, published on Wednesday, found that just five minutes later a bond was formed with the child as predators maintain a calm and innocent atmosphere.

Researchers found that among several "common and alarming features" was the revelation that the majority of sex offenders believed "everything is accepted" on the internet.

"The majority of online predators see the internet as safe environment where all forms of behaviour are allowed, including child abuse," said Dr Elena Martellozzo, the study's author.

Her work has been published in a new 184-page book titled "Policing Online Child Sexual Abuse: Grooming, Policing and Child Protection in a Multi-Media World".

Much of her work came after she was given "unprecedented access" to the Metropolitan Police's high tech crime and paedophile units to observe sex offenders at work.

She found that many offenders justified their actions by claiming they were "helping the child to learn about sex" while two third of offenders expose themselves through a webcam.

Once arrested, online groomers would almost always deny the claims and insist they had not been involved in any online offences but were "pure fantasy".

The web, she added, was seen as a "veil for anonymity" where many believed they would not be caught.

"Internet grooming is often different from 'real world' grooming," she said.

"This is so because some offenders spend less time chatting in order to get straight to the point, sometimes within a few minutes.

"This would suggest that the internet might act to remove inhibitions that might be heavily present in face-to-face contact."

She urged worried parents to warn their children that "cyberspace should be treated exactly as they treat the real world".

She added: "Children say and do things online that they wouldn't usually do, including swapping photos of themselves, seeing it as innocent fun rather than something that could later embarrass or hurt them.

"I've discussed online behaviour with hundreds of young people and many do not realise that everything they do online leaves a digital footprint that will always be there."

She added that parents should look for a change in their child's behaviour after they had been online or to use social media more and befriending their children.