The focus of this paper is on the use of the Internet for the sexual solicitation of children, which is known as 'online grooming'.
Typically, this relates to the use of the Internet with the intention to ‘procure’ a child to engage in sexual activity, either online or by means of a physical encounter offline. It can also refer to more preparatory online communications that are designed to make children more amenable to sexual advances.Issues concerning the protection of children from online sexual predators have been prominent in political and media debates in recent times.
Since the dangers of online usage were identified in the 1990s many jurisdictions, including Australia, have engaged in research projects to identify the scope and nature of the problems at issue. The research suggests that the world of online grooming is a complex place. A US study in 2007 found that 8% of children reported they’d actually met someone they knew online, while a 2006 study found that one in seven children aged 10-17 received unwanted online sexual solicitations. On the other hand, not all these come from strangers. It also seems that many ‘groomers’ do not lie at all about themselves and what their intentions are. This research suggests that most at risk from online grooming are teenage girls who become ‘romantically’ involved with those they meet on social networking systems. However, more research needs to be undertaken in this field, across jurisdictions, to gain a broader and truer picture of the risks involved to all minors. [5.2] When the online practices and perceptions of parents and children are compared there is a sense in which they are reporting on parallel realities. It has been suggested that ‘Directing more safety awareness at children themselves may be the best way forward, since parents often don’t know what their children are doing online’.