Cyber grooming of children is a cybercriminal phenomenon on the rise. The previous literature explains this phenomenon by applying theories developed for the physical world and thus cannot offer a detailed explanation of online child sexual abuse. A dissertational research from the University of Jyväskylä strives to propose new ways for both future research as well as the prevention of online child sexual abuse.
Cybercriminal phenomena seem to have caught us unprepared and off guard. As a fast response to explain the phenomena, research has tried to transfer already existing theories and solutions of crime and deviant human behavior from the physical world to the cyber one.
Dr. Manja Nikolovska’s dissertation from the University of Jyväskylä first identifies and elaborates the major shortcomings of cyber grooming literature. It then maintains that until we gain an empirical understanding of how cyber-specific behavioral characteristics are being used by the offender and victim in the cyber-grooming process, we cannot offer a detailed explanation and up-to-date prevention of online child sexual abuse.
The dissertation proposes a novel way of studying chat-interactive cybercriminal incidents. Nikolovska uses a discovery of time-stamped ‘cyber affordances’ as cyber-specific conceptual variables, which the offender and victim may use during the cyber-grooming process. The conceptual model is applied to empirical data of real-life cases of cyber grooming of children.
The first five days of active communication are the most critical
Law enforcement and social-control actors (e.g parents) have extremely short windows in which to intervene. The results from the study sample show that it is very likely that a critical incident, such as exchange of a picture or a call for example, can occur in the first five days of active communication. At the same time, with today’s widespread of Internet usage at an increasingly younger age and access to the Internet, in general, whereby it is even debated as a human right, it seems impossible to limit usage or present preventive strategies that will promote banning access to certain content or limiting access to information and social media connections. Therefore the practical contributions shall not condemn or limit Internet usage and its benefits; rather, promote their safe practice. Future research should engage in developing best practices for practical education of children on mindful Internet decision-making in their early stages of cognitive development.
Even talking about “the weather” can trigger fantasy building in the offender
Youth should be advised that even the most naïve conversations can be activated as malicious. There is a need to increase awareness of how descriptive responses to various aspect of everyday life (or any friendly response) can trigger predatory behavior from the offender. Youth and social control actors shall also be advised that simply dismissing or ignoring a critical incident request by an offender could be insufficient in repelling the offender’s intentions. Youth can also be advised that threatening to report an offender to law enforcement or social-control actors would not always repel the offender. On the contrary, it may encourage persuasion techniques or divert the offender predatory techniques towards recruitment of peers and friends of the victim.
With this kind of research, I strive to propose new ways of safe and mindful Internet behavior by highlighting the Internet’s most seductive and dangerous aspects. Information technology has already been unshackled from its physical grounding. We can literally say that it is all up in the ‘cloud’. I argue that researchers and practitioners should follow and perhaps unshackle themselves from previous knowledge strictly tied to the rules of the physical world and move toward more independent explorations in the Cyber World.
For citations: Nikolovska, M. (2020). The Internet as a creator of a criminal mind and child vulnerabilities in the cyber grooming of children. JYU dissertations.
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Manja Nikolovska 10.02.2020