NSPCC Wales and Swansea University combine to tackle online grooming

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Anti-grooming materials that aim to help prevent children and young people from being targeted by paedophiles online are being launched at Swansea University today (28 September).

STOP TimeSwansea University researchers studying the language and methods used by online groomers found that children could be contacted by adults via the internet, groomed, and a meeting set up within just a matter of hours.

Every year, thousands of children from across the UK contact the NSPCC’s Childline service with concerns resulting from their internet use. In 2016/17 Childline delivered 12,248 counselling sessions about online safety and abuse – an increase of nine per cent on the previous year.

Working with funding from the Cherish Digital Economy Centre (Cherish-De), the NSPCC and Swansea University have produced the ‘Stop TIME Online’ activity pack which will be used to raise awareness of how offenders groom children online and to prevent it from happening.

The Stop Time Online materials will be available for social workers and other professionals working with children and are being piloted in NSPCC service centres in Swansea, Cardiff, Prestatyn and North West England. The ambition is to roll-out these materials across the UK.

Research into online grooming communication has been conducted by Swansea University researchers since 2012, inspired by a lack of previous research into the methods of offenders.

The research has involved looking at the language used in numerous chat logs from convicted paedophiles who groomed their victims online. It was discovered that online grooming can happen alarmingly fast, sometimes within hours, with paedophiles arranging to meet children in a very short period of time. In one case it took less than 20 minutes to persuade a child to meet in real life.

Since January this year NSPCC Wales has been working with Swansea University to create the anti-grooming Stop TIME Online materials to help teach children and young people to think before they speak to people online. They have also consulted with young people to create the TIME acronym that uses terminology they can relate to and remember.

The TIME acronym stands for:

Trust: Groomers say things to develop ‘dodgy trust’ and build a relationship with you.

Isolate: Groomers make you feel separate (both physically and mentally) from people in your life.

Measure: Groomers say things to test how strong their relationship with you is.

Enjoy: Groomers get off on talking about sexual and romantic things, and asking to swap nude selfies.

Ruth Mullineux, project lead with NSPCC Cymru / Wales, said:“Online safety is a major 21st century child protection issue and it’s vital that we carry out research into the methods used to target children online, so we can act. Education is incredibly important in protecting the next generation from harm.

“Swansea University’s innovative research has allowed us to create these resources that will help professionals talk to children and young people about the dangers of grooming.We are looking forward to piloting this material in NSPCC service centres across Wales and seeing the results.”

Professor Nuria Lorenzo-Dus, Professor of Applied Linguistics at Swansea University, has been leading the team of researchers behind the project. She said: “Online grooming of children is one of the most insidious internet-enabled criminal threats to civil society. This project helps to safeguard the digital futures of some of our society’s most precious and vulnerable members.

“By analysing the language used by groomers of children we have been able to integrate academic insights with stakeholder input to create innovative prevention materials for use by social workers and other professionals working with children.”     

Carl Sargeant AM, Cabinet Member for Children and Communities, said: “Keeping our children safe is a key priority and we all have a role to play in educating them on how to be safe online. The resource being launched today is just one example of the innovative work Swansea University is developing with its partners, including the NSCPCC, which is doing excellent work to protect children through the development of safeguarding knowledge, information and resources.”

Professor Richard B. Davies, Vice Chancellor of Swansea University added:  “By applying our research strengths to real-world challenges and by working with appropriate external bodies, we are committed at Swansea University to help make the world a better place.  This timely and important project on on-line grooming prevention is designed to do precisely that.”

And Professor Matt Jones, Principle Investigator of CHERISH-DE said: "This work exemplifies what we strive to achieve:  innovations that enable people - in this case children and young adults - to thrive and flourish in and through digital interactions rather than be overwhelmed, harmed or alienated by it. I'm delighted with the outcome of the project and look forward to seeing its positive impact across the UK."