How to protect your child from online grooming and sexual abuse

If you are concerned about junior’s safety on the Internet, prevent them from becoming a victim of online sexual grooming.

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Chills must have run down the spine of many parents last Friday on reading about the 25-year-old Singapore warehouse assistant who was jailed for 8 months after being convicted of engaging in a sexual act with a 13-year-old girl at a staircase of a multi-storey car park. He had met her through Instagram and Facebook

In an age where computers and mobile phones seem to rule the world, parents should realise that online sexual grooming is one of the Web’s biggest threats. Indeed, they’ll need to know how to protect their children from such dangers.  

Shem Yao, senior coach at TOUCH Cyber Wellness, explains the term, “Grooming is the act of building up a trusting and emotional relationship with a minor, usually with the purpose of sexual exploitation, gratification or abuse. Online sexual grooming is the act of grooming through an online platform, such as social media or messaging platforms.”

In recent years, Singapore has an escalation in online grooming offences. In April this year, a 20-year-old was convicted for befriending girls as young as 12 on social media, then committing various sexual offences against more than 10 of them.

In December last year, a 45-year-old man was also jailed for sexually grooming a 14-year-old, whom he kept in contact with via Facebook. The Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) has also seen a rise in cases of sexual abuse, with a spike in online cases.

This is what you need to know about keeping your children safe from becoming victims of online grooming.

“Grooming is the act of building up a trusting and emotional relationship with a minor, usually with the purpose of sexual exploitation, gratification or abuse.”

How prevalent is online grooming in Singapore?

No exact figures are available as regards the number of children who are targeted, but the DQ Institute reports that 16 per cent of children surveyed in Singapore had been involved with online sexual behaviour, states Abdul Rahman Kamarudin, a case worker at MeToYou Cyber Care. Some 12 per cent had also met online strangers in real life, which is linked to grooming.  

He adds, “The Ministry of Social and Family Development reported that child sexual abuse is on the rise, with 181 cases in 2017, an increase from 107 in 2016.”

Another worrying trend is how children as young as age 7 are accessing social media and online gaming sites ― platforms most predators tap. Indeed, the former Media Development Authority reported that 65 per cent of children surveyed in 2015 used social media ― YouTube, Facebook and Instagram are top platforms.

What tactics do predators use to target kids?

Most predators prey on online platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, YouTube and even Internet games.

Abdul Rahman notes, “Upon targeting the child, they attempt to catfish (that is, pretending to be someone else, most often picking up an identity that is close to the child’s age). The predator would pretend to have similar interests, treat the child with gifts and shower him or her with attention.”

He explains that these “positive” experiences result in a sense of trust developing between child and predator. Predators then steer conversations towards sexual topics, tricking their victims into having online sexual activity (such as displaying intimate areas over a webcam and sending obscene images) or arranging face-to-face meetings.

Yao says, “Recent cases highlight that many minors are sexually curious but have no proper understanding about sex. Predators prey on their curiosity, engaging in sexual gratification by providing misinformation about topics like sex and masturbation.”