Sonia was horrified when she found out that her 11-year-old daughter Nikki had sent naked photos of herself to a friend she’d made online. Reading the conversation thread between her daughter and her “friend”, who claimed to be 18, Sonia was certain that her daughter was being groomed by a predator.
Sonia coaxed Nikki into hand over her phone and encouraged her to tell her about her new friend.
“She met him on an online game platform. He was very friendly and always paid her compliments. I saw the messages... he sweet-talked her, asked her to be his girlfriend and so on. He then starting asking her for photos. When she was reluctant, he would ignore her for days until she relented, ” says the 45-year-old mother.
More and more, child sexual predators are going online to prey on children. They use services that are popular with young people such as online game sites and communities to make their move. Their communication then moved on to social media or a mobile chat apps and ultimately, face to face meetings. Predators prey on children who seem vulnerable – they gauge this by going through the child’s posts on social media.
“Predators are very smart. They give the child the attention she or he needs. They groom the child until they get what they want. If a 50-year-old woman can fall for a love scam, how can we blame a child from being manipulated?” says Cheng, a senior case worker with PS the Chidlren.
Parents and guardians, teachers and anyone who is in contact with children must understand and be aware of the risks that children might encounter online and be prepared to talk to them about it.
“We need to acknowledge that there is a problem and figure out how to deal with it. Barring a child from going online isn’t the solution - your child can find a way to go online and they will shut you out. Rather, parents need to be one step ahead. Find out how these predators operate and foster open communication with their children. This way, if their children are feeling uncomfortable or unsure, they might come to them before anything bad happens, ” says Cheng.