I have written before about the devastating consequences that victim blaming has on young people’s lives and how ill-informed judgements, words and actions can potentially lead to them not getting the support they need to move forward with their lives.
In this column, I want to focus on online grooming and the damage that victim blaming can have on young people experiencing these crimes. The vast majority of the young people we work with have initially been targeted by perpetrators through social media and online gaming channels.
Online grooming usually starts with a connection and the perpetrator works hard to build a relationship – exploiting the vulnerabilities that a child or young person may have. Most commonly, the perpetrator’s goal is to persuade and even bribe a young person into sending inappropriate images of themselves or agreeing to meet with them in secret. When this comes to light, it is very common for friends, parents and even professionals to slip into victim blaming – saying: ‘why did you accept that friend request’ or ‘why didn’t you just ignore it’?
By, even unwittingly, putting the onus on the young person and then taking away phones or laptops – we are essentially blaming and even punishing the young person – not the adult
who has perpetrated these crimes.
It is important to remember that we live in an increasingly technological world which most young people embrace but which we, as adults, may not completely understand. Therefore, as parents and family members, please try to research and better understand the world of social media and online interaction that your child wants to do. Most importantly, please try to keep conversations open and non-judgemental so that, if they are in danger of online grooming, they are more likely to talk to you about it. My final plea is to work alongside your young person to maximise online privacy settings and explain why it is important to do so.