Knowing how to tell if one is dealing with a predator is key to avoid falling for their deceit. Although it isn’t necessarily the first step to protecting your child from online predators, it’s important for a couple of reasons. One reason is that it’ll provide you with openings for discussing online safety with your children. Another is that such knowledge will put you in a better position to plug any holes that’ll make your child vulnerable to sexual offenders; both offline and online. So, how does one learn how to identify online child predators?

Know where they operate

Child online predators are on virtually all online platforms. They’re particularly abundant on platforms where their target victims are most active. Social media networks, online games, chat rooms and instant messaging are hot beds for predators. Thanks to the facelessness that the internet affords, predators hide behind false profiles that allow them blend into an online platform’s typical crowd. They’re also knowledgeable about teenage matters and trends; and they arm themselves with the appropriate lingo to fit in. This means that unless your child knows that she/he should treat online interactions with some degree of suspicion, they’d chat and interact freely with such predators. Thus placing themselves in harm’s way.

Know how they choose their victims

Online predators are deliberate in their choice of victims. They often stalk the accounts of multiple potential victims at a time and know how to identify vulnerable children. Predators assess the profiles, photos and posts of potential victims and are able to recognize kids who are lonely, seeking validation or attention, going through a hard time or lacking confidence. They target and befriend kids with posts or profiles that show any of these vulnerabilities.

Online predators are manipulative

They often start out by being charming, nice and helpful. They’re always ready to identify with the child and present themselves as the only ones who get what the child is going through. This obviously makes the target to relax and become comfortable interacting with them. The child starts to think that they’re interacting with a friend who’s cares about them. But the predator only sees him/her as an object being groomed to satisfy their depraved desires. With time, the predator begins to make subtle sexual comments and make sexual demands. Such demands can include requests for nude photos, showing them private parts during video calls; or even asking the child to touch their privates parts in a sexual way.

They are invasive

Online predators do not respect personal boundaries. Depending on the predator’s aim (to obtain explicit imagery or groom for one-on-one encounters), they take the required time to gain the child’s trust. A tell-tale sign that one is dealing with a predator is the haste with which they pursue the relationship. They go from hi and hello to asking personal questions like name, age, location and sex-related questions in a very short span of time. They’ll also work hard at isolating the child from their support system. This makes the child largely dependent on them for social and emotional support. And when the child is in that position, the predator is able to make the child comply with their demand.

Online predators are exploitative

Sextortion occurs when a predator threatens to share nudes, videos or other sexual material of victims if more sexual content isn’t sent or money paid. It’s basically blackmail. And predators don’t mind putting children through that horror for their own personal gain. Predators also engage in the sharing of CSAM (child sexual abuse material) with other predators across the internet. What this means is that a child can get re-victimized each time sexually explicit photos or videos of him or her is shared or viewed online. And seeing as the internet never forgets, those pictures never really go away and can be used against the victims.

Online predators are also inconsistent in the information they share. That’s because there’s often a lot of lies to keep up with. If an online acquaintance says they’re a certain age and sends a picture of someone older or younger, that’s a red flag.

A lot of work goes into studying online predators and the findings are largely depressing. No one really understands why child predators do what they do. But what we do know is that their actions have far-reaching devastating effects on the child. Knowing how to identify online child predators is a huge step in the direction of keeping your children safe from them.