The Grooming Process
An adult who is seeking a child could pretend to be a child online, but more often they do not hide their age. The adult may use interests listed on the young person's Facebook page or other online profile to start a conversation online, pretending to be especially interested in what the child likes. These adults can be very charming, and they are masters at manipulating young people. And forget the stereotypes, because any adult can be a child predator.
An adult who wants to exploit a young person builds trust by sympathizing with them. He may pretend to be a supportive friend, the only one who really understands. He will ask the teen to keep their relationship secret, and may try to drive a wedge between the young person and their family. Flattery and gifts may follow.
Setting Up a Meeting
At some point, the adult will usually talk to the potential victim on the phone. Phone calls typically lead to an attempt to set up a face-to-face meeting somewhere away from parents and school. In some cases, predators have given young people train or airplane tickets, or offered to drive or fly to meet them.
Manipulation And Seduction
Young people can be seduced into having sexual relations that are both harmful and illegal. They may agree to meet with an adult because they believe that the online relationship is based on mutual affection or romance. They may be lonely, crave adventure and want to take risks, or just want to make their own decisions. Some young people may agree to meet because they are curious about sex and want to learn from the "friendly" adult they met online. Others may be blackmailed into the meeting when an adult threatens to disclose the relationship or other embarrassing information to the child's parents, or threatens to harm the child's family.
Any Child Can Be A Victim
Most Internet sex crimes involve girls who are 12 or older. About one fourth of victims are boys. In many cases these boys have questions about sexual orientation. They look online for support, and fall victim to an adult who pretends to understand them. Experts warn that any child can be vulnerable, even a young person who seems happy and well-adjusted, and shows no sign of trouble.
Adults who want to exploit young people seek them regardless of what the child looks like, or their race or gender. While most parents believe their child would tell them about suspicious people they meet online, many children do not, in part because they are afraid they will lose their Internet privileges.