Alleged abusers or offenders use a variety of strategies to access and entrap young people. These strategies can be sophisticated and deliberately target young people’s inexperience, their need for belonging and their desire to be seen as adult. As with all manipulative and coercive behaviours, the key is to be aware of common strategies and notice them. If you are aware, you can educate the young people, families and communities you work with.
While each of the below methods of manipulation and coercion are different, alleged abusers or offenders tend to use a similar pattern of behaviour that progresses through targeting, friendship-forming, a loving relationship phase and an abusive relationship stage. These are further explored in Stages of manipulation and coercion.
Common strategies in the early stages of manipulation include:
- Manipulation and coercion through peers or friendship networks. The young person is introduced to the alleged abuser or offender by their friend. The young person and their friends are offered gifts, car rides or other types of attention by the offender.
- The young person believes the alleged abuser or offender is their boyfriend or girlfriend. The alleged abuser or offender may offer them attention, gifts and a ‘loving relationship’.
- Groups of young people are invited to parties where they are given alcohol and other drugs and where sexual activities and violence are normalised. The young person is encouraged to invite their friends. The parties may be held a long way from home, making it difficult to leave.
- Online manipulation and coercion.
Online ‘grooming’ and sexual exploitation
Online manipulation and coercion, or grooming, is being recognised increasingly as a pathway to sexual exploitation. Online alleged abusers or offenders will typically send out messages to hundreds of young people and see who responds. The young person is enticed into an online ‘relationship’ with an alleged abuser or offender. The young person may never meet the alleged abuser or offender but may establish what they believe is a loving relationship or friendship with the alleged abuser or offender online and may share intimate details of their life with them.
‘Grooming’ of young people under the age of 16 is an offence in Queensland (Australian Institute of Criminology, 2008). Offenders commonly use social media sites, instant messaging apps, teen dating apps, or online gaming platforms to connect with a young person. This approach means that they can learn about the young person’s interests, friends and family and use this knowledge to build a connection with the young person. Online offenders are able to hide their identity. They may pretend to be the same age as the young person to build a trusting relationship with them.
Current technology means that offenders are able to persuade young people to send sexual videos or images or take part in online sexual activity without ever meeting them face to face.
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