Bringing Light to the Darkness of Human Trafficking (Trafficking in Persons)

Online exploitation, including grooming, is widespread worldwide. And even without physical contact, perpetrators can still exploit minors in severe ways, warned clinical child psychologist Dr Karen Moore.

She defined grooming as the deliberate creation of an apparent relationship in order to get minors to the point where they can be manipulated and sexually exploited.

She said perpetrators target children as young as six years old, considering they are easier to control and do not think about long-term consequences.

Moore was speaking at an anti-human trafficking webinar dealing with online grooming and sexual exploitation of children on Thursday afternoon. The non-governmental organisation, Franciscan Institute, hosted the event at which Moore presented.

Signs of grooming include children and teens spending long periods online and increased secretive behaviour regarding devices and online use.

“They have extreme reactions to not having access to devices or to the Internet. Children may threaten to hurt themselves if they do not get back their devices. Another sign is having secret social media accounts and the unexplained access to resources,” Moore explained.

“This can be through online games. If it was happening in person, one might have seen tangible items like a cell phone.”

Gaming, she said, is a place where perpetrators can easily recruit children.

“Online chats accompany the games. There is interaction. Here, boys especially can be easily recruited.”

She identified seven steps of the grooming process, starting with finding the potential victims. People do this through chat rooms, social media, messaging apps, and gaming sites. The next step is establishing an alliance followed by the perpetrator assessing the weaknesses of his potential victim. Moore said the perpetrator sets secrecy and advance agenda in the fourth step, followed by establishing and increasing dependence.

In step six, the perpetrator uses the dependence to control the minor and maintain secrecy.

“The final step is to exploit. It is the coaxing stage. Coaxing has become pressuring, using guilt. He is now demanding and threatening.

“The ‘relationship’ has become one between master and slave. The perpetrator's goal is to have complete control. At every step, there is an opportunity to walk out. At each step, the perpetrator is gambling.”

There are different ways to help minors resist grooming, such as having a close relationship with a consistent, caring and safe adult.

“This trusting adult may help with unresolved trauma. A child is more likely to share information as this relationship is invaluable. If the child already has this relationship, he/she may feel no need to share a relationship with a stranger online.”

Moore also noted that grooming online could happen with friends and family.

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