The sexual abuse of young people via the internet is an international problem. A recent report from the Centre for Missing and Exploited Children described 2660 incidents of adults using the internet to befriend and establish an emotional connection with a child, in order to entice him or her into meeting. As the number of young people who use the Internet to socially network with friends increases, so to does the potential for contact with sexual offenders. Yet little is known about how online groomers select their vicitims.
Now Stephen Webster at NatCen has teamed up with the Centre for Abuse and Trauma Studies (CATS) to lead a group of experts from across Europe in a research project that will study the characteristics and behaviour of sexual offenders who have used the internet to groom young people. The project will run until 2012 and is sponsered by the European Commission Safer Internet Plus Programme. Researchers will conduct indepth interviews with online groomers in the UK, Italy, Belgium and Norway.
Talking about the project, Professor Julia Davidson, one of the research leaders and a co-director of CATS - a partnership between Kingston University and Professor Antonia Bifulco of Royal Holloway, University of London, said: “The time is right because we now have a reasonable sized cohort of offenders. We aim to explore their victim targeting practice. We suspect groomers select young people who are vulnerable but we don’t have evidence of this yet. When the study is finished we’ll be able to provide information on offender practice to schools, parents, children and internet service providers.”
The results of this research will also inform the work of law enforcement agencies and providers of treatment services for sexual offenders as well as the risk management strategies of policy makers.