Grooming is how a sexual predator sets the stage for abusing a child, by first befriending them, establishing an emotional connection.
And most of it happens online.
Kids have an online presence, even as toddlers.
“There are social apps starting for five-year-olds,” said Zack Allman, Marshall County Prosecutor’s Investigator.
Each predator has a preferred age. If they prefer toddlers, they’ll be online, exploiting their interests.
“If toddlers at the time are into Dora the Explorer or Thomas the Train, whatever it is, that’s what their profile’s gonna be. They’re gonna know about, they’re gonna watch it as well,” said Allman.
Allman said every child using social media is at risk.
Some more than others.
Those whose internet is not supervised..
“And also ones where the child is not receiving the love and support that they need in life, and predators are more than happy to step In and provide that love and that care and that support. It’s all fake,” said Allman.
We often hear of predators who try to lure their victims into meeting them.But there’s another growing trend: predators who never want a meeting, they want to elicit nude photographs or videos from children.
Allmen said a predator grooms a child the same way adults groom or “court” each other: with attention, compliments, claims of love.
This technique is especially effective with kids who have a rough home life.
Sometimes there are gifts. In one case, there were extravagant gifts.
It’s my understanding there was a four-wheeler involved. Other motorized equipment,” said Brandy Whitlach, Marshall County Chief Probation Officer.
Allman said when tweens and teens post pictures and personal information, they are, in effect, handing them to a predator.
“They wouldn’t walk up to the front door and say here, here’s a picture of me at the swimming pool and here’s all my personal information you need to creep on me. This is all it is in one package,” said Allman.
Allman said he guarantees that among their online ‘friends’ or ‘followers’ are predators using a fake profile.
“It’s the same creep behind the computer, but now it’s a pretty face,” said Allman.
So what is safe to post online?
“Parents should tell their kids to give out zero information. To not tell their name, their age, their address, their city,” said Whitlach.
“What I was always told was, if your grandmother or your pastor wouldn’t approve of you posting it, it’s probably not a good idea to post it,” said Allman.
They say if a child has proven they can’t be responsible with what they post, then their parents should delete their accounts and eliminate their online presence until they reach a better level of maturity.