Understanding online grooming: An interpretative phenomenological analysis of adolescents' offline meetings with adult perpetrators

Jonie Chiu*, Ethel Quayle

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Background
It is the norm for adolescents to form friendships online but connecting with strangers poses risks of online grooming. Adult perpetrators take advantage of the internet's anonymity and accessibility to befriend and groom young people for sexual abuse. Much of the existing research has focused on the offender's perspective and grooming tactics, while extensive studies on victim profiles have focused on risk factors and young people's vulnerabilities to online grooming.

Objective
This research takes an in-depth look into grooming processes from the perspective of the adolescent victim and explores how the relationships progressed online-to-offline, resulting in sexual abuse. It aims to understand young people's motivations and mindsets by exploring their lived experiences of offline meeting with adult perpetrators.

Participants and setting
The sample consisted of adolescents aged 14–21 in the UK and EU.

Methods
Using data from the Risk-taking Online Behavior Empowerment through Research and Training Project, six interviews were examined using an interpretative phenomenological analysis.

Results
Four themes emerged: 1) Varied interpretations of risk 2) Taking control 3) Seeking security and validation; and 4) Shifts in perspective. The subtleties of online grooming were masked by the adolescents' misplaced trust as they displayed agency in pursuing opportunities for online friendships or sexual activities.

Conclusions
Findings suggest an insufficient knowledge of grooming and the need to more clearly define risks among adolescents. Safety guidelines should highlight the subtleties of grooming tactics and harmful behaviours that may not be readily perceived as abuse.
Original languageEnglish
Article number105600
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
Volume128
Early online date23 Mar 2022
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2022

Keywords

  • online grooming
  • adolesccents
  • IPA
  • sexual abuse

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