Furthermore, online groomers do not always masquerade as children or adolescents in cyberspace. In fact, none of the conversations included in our database involved a sexual predator pretending to be a youngster. Some online groomers misrepresented their true age by taking around four or five years from their real age – but they still made it clear from the very start that they were adults. Not all online sexual predators are middle-aged adults either. In the data we examined, online groomer age ranged from 18 to the late 60s.
Though online grooming is often considered to be a long process, taking several months from initial contact to sexual exploitation, it is actually alarmingly brief. In our research database, it sometimes took just a matter of minutes.
A few studies have investigated the characteristics of children and adolescents who are solicited for sex online. In terms of gender, for example, 75% of the victims are reported to be female. As for personality and behavioural traits, low self-esteem and spending long periods of time online have been identified as high risk factors.
However, regardless of how high the risks taken by a group of children are, the threats faced by all are deeply concerning. All children are vulnerable to online sexual predation by adults and so our efforts must be devoted to ensuring that all children are safe online.