Providing parents an understanding of predator’s methods helps parents protect their children. A predator’s goal is to lure and manipulate a child into believing they care for your child more than his or her parents or family. An Internet predator creates a fictitious online personality that emotionally replaces the trusted parent or guardian in a child’s mind. The tragedy of Internet victims is that they are not only physically and emotionally harmed, but they also harbor feelings of guilt and shame because in many instances they have willfully met their "fictitious friend".
Predators view the process of finding and tracking down a child as a hunt and a game. They spend a lot of time, over many months, breaking down barriers to get the child to feel comfortable enough to divulge personal information. We refer to this process as "grooming."
Grooming includes fishing, mirroring, luring, and any other means by which a predator prepares a child to become a victim. Predators develop relationships by offering whatever a child seems to need, emotionally or literally luring them with gifts. Some children who are sad, bored, or lonely will turn to the Internet to have an emotional need met. These children are particularly vulnerable to "grooming" and need to internalize the importance of protecting their personal information.
Personal information is much more than just a name, address, or phone number—it includes anything that lets a predator know something specific about the child: the name of their school, soccer team, favorite professional sports team, or specialized hobbies. An online predator will "fish" for information by asking basic questions, followed by more specific questions.
A combination of unrelated bits of information can direct a predator to a very narrow area. For example:
- "The White Sox is my favorite baseball team."
- "It hailed today at my school."
With these two pieces of information, a predator can check specific weather maps and narrow down the child’s possible location to a very small area. The predator will then search for details about the area in an attempt to draw more out of the child. When the predator’s area is small enough, a simple detail such as, "My teacher won’t let me climb the big willow tree," can be enough for the predator to find the child.
Parks and schools and their surrounding areas are favorite places for predators to make contact with children; if possible, predators avoid a child’s home and street—where they are more easily identified as out of place. In some tragic cases, children were victimized during recess and returned to the playground before anyone knew the child was missing.
Online predators are skilled in playing back emotionally what they see in the child. This "mirroring" creates an illusion of camaraderie designed to break down the barriers of "stranger danger." For example, if a child is lonely, the predator mirrors that emotion and tries to fill the void by telling the child that he understands how it feels to be lonely and that he would like to be his/her friend. Predators mimic the child’s emotional language and play back the emotions they see in an attempt to diminish his or her inhibitions.