The Techniques of a Predator: Part I – Trust and Romance

Last updated on November 2nd, 2018 at 11:10 pm

Potentially, the most dangerous risk associated by minors going online is the risk of being groomed or attacked by a sexual predator.  Online predators are very well-versed at knowing what to say in order to get what they want from their targets. They approach minors on frequently used apps, often pretending to be a minor themselves.  They also find them while using popular online games, including Roblox, Minecraft, World of Warcraft, and others.

“It’s an unfortunate fact of life that pedophiles are everywhere online,” warns FBI Special Agent Greg Wing, who supervises a cyber squad from the Bureau’s Chicago field office.  Special Agent Wesley Tagtmeyer, who also works out of the Chicago office in undercover operations, states that in his experience, about 70 percent of kids will accept “friend” requests regardless of whether they know the requester.

Examples of interactions with online predators:

In one of the best known cases of online predators, Amanda Todd, a 15 year old girl from British Columbia, Canada, was targeted by a man in the Netherlands.  As this video explains, the man who came after her knew exactly what young Amanda wanted to see and hear and he gave it to her. The result was the suicide of a young woman who was taken from us far too soon.

His arrest in this case showed that he was similarly attacking at least 39 victims.  In some cases, predators do more than engage with their targets online. Apps like Whisper or Tinder include geographic features designed to let people find others nearby to attempt meeting them in person.  While some consenting adults might choose to use this for casual sex, predators use them to find nearby victims.

In suburban Philadelphia earlier this year, a man started talking with a 14 year old girl on Whisper.  She mentioned that she was depressed and had been fighting with her mother.  He convinced her to give him her address so that they could watch a movie together because in her words, he seemed “nice”.  Police reports indicate that he arrived within five minutes, took the girl into her bedroom and raped her, leaving immediately after.

The basics:

Many online predators are very patient and will stalk prey the way a lion goes after a gazelle, going after the young and possibly (emotionally) vulnerable.

There are several techniques that predators use to get images or videos from their targets. In many cases, they entice the minor to send the images and parents would be surprised to find out how often the juvenile sends the requested pictures, without realizing the risks involved. In other cases or if enticing doesn’t work, the predator simply demands/threatens the child to get what they want.

In the case of Amanda, her attacker befriended her at the beginning.  In the case of a family I know personally, her attacker took the opposite approach and almost immediately threatened to attack her family if she did not send him naked pictures. Worried for her family’s safety, she complied.

In part one of this two part series, we will focus on how online predators coerce their prey through trust and romance and what we, as parents, can do to make these tactics less effective. In part two we will go on to discuss how when these appeals fail, predators will often shift to bribery or even threats.

Trust

Predators know that it will take time to earn someone’s trust. They create an elaborate online presence, often using multiple accounts.  These accounts often interact with each other to create the appearance of a genuine person who has been online for a long time.

Often, predators find a boy or girl who may not be popular or socially adept and treat them very well.  The predator takes time to develop a trusted bond with their victim. They ask for a very safe picture, such as headshot.  They compliment them and tell them how pretty or handsome they look.

They ask what kinds of music or books they like.  Remarkably, they say that they like the exact same things, creating a bond that the victim sees as finding someone who finally “gets” them.  Eventually, they ask for racier pictures until they finally get what they want. This technique can often lead to threats to get more pictures or videos if they stop sending the images, a routine known as sextortion.

Romance

Similar to the trust process, the parties may actually be involved in an actual relationship, either in person or just online.  Eventually, trust is earned and perhaps it exists both ways, but if/when the relationship ends, the problems can begin in the form of Revenge Porn, the distribution of intimate images from former lovers to embarrass or otherwise cause them harm.

In some cases, the person who wants the other person to send racy pics will start simply by asking for a fairly tame picture, such as picture of a girl wearing a bikini or in her underwear.  While both essentially show the same amount of skin, there is a stigma often associated with the later. Either way, such pics often involve a pose that might be embarrassing if seen by the general public, family members, teachers, etc.

One middle school guidance counselor in my county explained that what she often hears from students who send such pictures is, “If I say no, they may not like me.”

If even racier pictures are requested and denied by the other person, predators might say something like, “You’d send it if you really loved me,” or “I just want something to look at when you’re not with me.”  This approach can be very effective to someone who is in a relationship and doesn’t want this issue to cause a problem &/or end the relationship.

Preventing the Trust or Romance Approaches from Working

Schools focus on the hard skills: reading, writing, etc.  While some teachers may put emphasis on soft skills, it is often left to the parents to encourage these skills.  These skills are now collectively referred to as emotional intelligence. In his book, Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, Dr. John Gottman does an excellent job at not only helping parents raise emotionally intelligent children, he specifically discusses how marriage, divorce and death can impact children. Traumatic events such as those often leave children vulnerable to outside influences, including online predators.

The best thing that parents can do to help prevent these approaches from working on their children is to promote your child’s self-esteem.  

This will make the predators less likely to be able to trick them into believing that they are really their friends.

But it doesn’t stop there.  Nobody should ever send intimate pictures to anyone.  Even assuming that the recipient would never use them against the person, devices do get hacked or stolen.  Imagine the trauma when a romantic rival of your child finds the opportunity to “borrow” your child’s phone and sends images from the phone to others?  It’s just not worth the risk – ever!

In part two of this discussion, additional techniques used by predators will be explained.  Also included will be shocking news from a new study on sextortion, conducted by the co-founders of the Cyberbullying Research Center, so keep an eye out for it.

About the Author

Joe Yeager is the founder of Safety Net of PA, LLC and has been a cybersafety advocate for several years. He is an adjunct professor at Thomas Jefferson University. He is certified by the US Centers for Disease Control in Bullying Prevention and is the cyberbullying advisor to Fifty Shades of Purple against Bullying. He is also the author of #DigitalParenting- A Parent's Guide to Social Media, Cyberbullying &Online Activity, which was chosen as an Editor’s Pick in April 2016. Joe is a member of the PedSafe Expert team

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