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Online Child Grooming: My Personal Experience

Our Youth Advisory Team shares their lived experience. We hear what is happening right now through them, rather than relying on outdated information passed through approval gates before it is shared. It's real; it's raw..........it's right now.

*****Trigger warning - Online Grooming***** Navigating the complex world of social media isn’t easy, especially in this day and age when the number of followers and likes is the be-all and end-all. Like many other naïve teenagers, I would follow strangers to receive a follow back; I had a public profile, and I did not care about the strange messages I began to receive. I was warned by my parents against strangers online, but because child grooming was not prevalent, because it was not something that I was exposed to, I did not think that it was a thing… until I experienced it myself. One day I received a message from an unknown account, a simple hello. I thought nothing of it but didn’t feel the need to respond. These things happen. Not all the time, but it does. People will message you asking to like a post, click on a link or leave a comment. Most of the time, with a simple swipe, the message was deleted, and that was that. However, this person who felt the need to contact me on Instagram didn’t stop with hello. Texting became more frequent. I ignored the account. The comments on my posts became more targeted. I ignored the account. The comments turned to calls. I ignored the account but eventually couldn’t ignore it any longer. So, I asked them to stop. This stranger was online, but I engaged in their little game and asked them to leave me alone. I could not block them; this would only result in losing a follower. However, this response only encouraged the person sitting on the other side of that screen. They did not stop. They would ask me questions based on my posts. From “what a cute dog. What is her name?” to “wow, what a beautiful view.” It eventually turned into “where do you live?” “what are you wearing.” I was arrogant. I thought I could manipulate the manipulator, but you cannot. They tried to be my friend, and in all my attempts to trick them, it worked, if only for a short while. They told me about their school, friends, and life, and I could relate to their words. They would start to get angry with the stress and pressure they were under when I did not get back to the person immediately. They would message harmful comments until they tried to blame me for their anger, that it was my fault that they could not control their temper. I was fed up, and I blocked them.

They messaged my friends. They found my other accounts. It just did not end—message after message. Day after day, there was no stopping this person. They asked for pictures that were not appropriate; then, they would apologise and claim that they did not mean what they said, that it was a joke and that their friends had sent the message instead. They tried to make me feel like they were the victim, that this stranger on the other end of the phone was innocent in these mind games. They made me feel guilty and ashamed. Stupid and naïve. But I was over it. Enough was enough. This had gone on long enough. It was time to call the police.

Within the next week, two officers knocked on our door and came in to chat with me. This person was a frequent flyer, someone they had been watching for a while. They had no way to track them down. I was directed to stay off social media for a time. To move on and forget what happened. I did, of course. These were the police, who knew what was best for me in this situation and did what they could, but I wish I were better equipped to deal with the problem before it got completely out of hand. How does child grooming begin, and what does it look like? Child grooming is when people online – sometimes adults – manipulate children and build a relationship with them, only to abuse them later after trust has been earned. - Child groomers visit websites popular amongst children, often pretending to be a similar age to talk with them frequently through online chat rooms. - The person uses personal information they have found online to build a relationship and form a connection. - The child groomer aims to isolate the child from friends and family through manipulative processes. - The groomer tests how far a child is willing to go online, sometimes asking for sexually explicit material. How to prevent this from happening to you: - Have your account set to private - Only accept follow requests from those you have met in person - Don’t use your real name for the account - Delete requests from strangers - Don’t follow your own accounts Tips for parents on how you can protect your child: - Be actively involved in their digital lives. - Encourage your child not to post personal details and to have a private account. - Guide your children in what is appropriate to post on social media. - Teach your child to recognise the signs of child grooming. - Watch your child for any signs of pushing others away or changes in behaviour. - Build an open, trusting relationship that allows children to tell you about what is happening online. Ensuring your children know that you will help them with any issues they may have online can help prevent them from keeping any problems to themselves and issues from getting worse. - Keep a look out for changes in your child's behaviour. If they start to be more secretive about what they do online, it could be a sign of grooming. - Make sure your children know that they should never meet up with strangers they meet online. They need to understand that talking to someone online doesn’t mean they aren’t a stranger. The most important thing to remember is that no matter what happens, a child who has been a victim of child grooming is not at fault. These people are masters at what they do, and while they present a real issue in the online community, the likelihood of being a victim may lessen as long as precautions are taken.


TO REPORT ONLINE GROOMING FROM ANY COUNTRY PLEASE VISIT: https://nationalcrimeagency.gov.uk/virtual-global-taskforce/

Hi, My name is Tealia - I am 16 years old, and I joined this committee to make a difference and be the support that my peers deserve, the voice for those who cannot speak up, and the guide to help navigate the rocky world of social media. ​ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Tealia - I am 16 years old, and I joined this committee to make a difference and be the support that my peers deserve, the voice for those who cannot speak up, and the guide to help navigate the rocky world of social media. I want to help my peers be heard and make their online experiences more positive. I bring to this committee my strength, dedication, and support. I am excited to help.

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