Most of us who worry about online grooming of our children think of strangers lurking in the shadows reaching out to our children.  This prevailing narrative matches the earlier "stranger danger" model of in-person abuse.   However, a recent meta-analysis, which reviewed 32 studies covering thousands of minors, suggests that, just like in-person abuse, we need to help our children be aware of overtures from people they know. According to these researchers,  most children know their online predators.

The meta-analysis revealed that around one-third of the studies focused on solicitation and general online sexual abuse against children, accounting for 34% and 31% of the online crimes investigated, respectively. The meta-analysis also included other types of online violence such as cyberstalking, grooming, and image-based sexual abuse, which accounted for 3%, 9%, and 22% of the cases, respectively.

Moreover, approximately two-fifths of the perpetrators were found to be juveniles themselves. This indicates that the issue of online violence extends beyond the stereotypical image of a predatory stranger lurking in the shadows of the internet.

These findings challenge the current approach to online violence prevention programs, which overwhelmingly focus on the stranger typification of online violence. It is crucial for those of us who parent vulnerable children to recognize that this perspective may not align with the reality of online violence. We need to educate our children about the potential risks posed by both strangers and individuals they may know offline.   More importantly, we need to keep open lines of communication with our children and be aware of how they are engaging in relationships.


Debbie Ausburn

Helping foster parents and stepparents learn how to be the person who is not supposed to be there.