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Study summarised:

In their own words: Young people’s vulnerabilities to being groomed and sexually abused online

The summary:

This was a qualitative study done in America, with 8 young people about what made them vulnerable to online grooming and sexual abuse, when they were younger, and what served as protective factors.

This study is limited because, among others, of the small sample size, so it cannot be generalized to other samples, but lessons learned are important and vital to remember when doing child protection social work.

Significant findings?
Dominant risk factors (to be groomed and sexually abused online):

  • Children with low self esteem
  • Children who are lonely
  • Being from a reconstituted family
  • Living in a home where there are many fights
  • Children with separated parents
  • Distant from family
  • No parent discussion about online safety
  • Being bullied at school
  • Little or no internet safety education at school
  • Living in environment in which child is bored
  • Talking to strangers online
  • When a child has his or her own internet enabled device
  • A child who uses internet in bedroom

Key protective factors:

  • Parents who take active steps toward online protection
  • Children who are close to wider family
  • Children with good close friends
  • Children with hobbies and extra curricula activities
  • Children who value friendship
  • Children who had sex education and who regard school as good
  • Children who are happy in living environment
  • Children with good neighbours
  • A child who rarely shares photos online
  • A child who rarely speaks to strangers online

How can you relate this to practice?

  • As a child protection social worker, it is part of your job to deliver prevention and early intervention services, and one of your roles is that of the educator. This is a good article to support the idea of group work with at-risk parents, new parents or foster parents, to educate them on the risks of online grooming, and teaching these caretakers how to protect the children in their care, against perpetrators roaming the online streets.
  • When you read the article and scan the protective factors, remember these when you train prospective foster parents or place of safety parents, and parents in general, about what to actively do or consider, to promote the safety of children. For instance, supporting caregivers towards efforts that involve each of their children in some sort of extra curricula activity or sport. Furthermore, reacting to reports of bullying in a way that stops bullying; also promote healthy friendships within peer group with appropriate supervision.
  • Refresh your understanding of grooming and sexual abuse, and remember that it is not only your job to intervene once abuse occurred, but also to identify children at risk of abuse and to prevent abuse by, for instance, education.