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Social media and sexual grooming of children

Paper i proceeding
Författare Marie Eneman
Publicerad i Proceedings of European Communication Research and Education Association (ECREA) Children-Youth-Media (CYM), September, 2019, Spain.
Publiceringsår 2019
Publicerad vid Institutionen för tillämpad informationsteknologi (GU)
Språk en
Ämnesord Keywords: Social media, children, sexual grooming, grooming behaviour, regulation
Ämneskategorier Teknik och social förändring, Barn, Rättssociologi, Mänsklig interaktion med IKT, Systemvetenskap, informationssystem och informatik med samhällsvetenskaplig inriktning


Modern technology, such as social media, has transformed the ways people communicate and interact with each other in our contemporary digital society. The technology enables opportunities to establish contacts between peoples in new ways and to communicate with those known and unknown to them. We know from previous research that social media plays an important role for children when establishing relations with other people. Not least since it offers real-time communication and interaction which is popular and frequented used among children. On the one hand, there are a number of benefits and opportunities with using social media for establishing contacts, on the other hand children’s use of social media is also associated with concern for serious risks and threats. Sexual grooming is a highly topical example of how social media can be used in harmful ways to exploit children in our digital society. The term grooming refers to the process used by offenders to get in contact with children for sexual purposes. The process consists of a variety of manipulative and controlling strategies where the offender attempts to establish trust with the child, get emotional control over the child, normalise sexually harmful and illegal behaviour in order to lower the child’s resistance to engage in such activities and to prevent the risk of being disclosed. Grooming has been the principal approach of facilitating sexual abuse for a very long time and can be used both to enable the first abuse but also to enable for abuse to continue over time. It can take different expressions where the offender, through different strategies, induces the child to take part in sexual conversations, sending sexual images, posing in front of a web camera, conducting sexual activities in front of a web camera or mobile phone camera. Even though, that sexual grooming of children existed long before the advent of modern technology, recent technological innovations have created new ways for conducting grooming. Technology such as social media provides opportunities for individuals with a sexual interest in children to search for and get in contact with potential victims, the technology holds certain features that enables for individuals to easier conceal the real identity and portray in a way that better fit the purpose. In addition, the technology facilitates real-time communication and interaction with a large number of persons despite geographical distances. There have been several cases in Sweden where the offenders have established contact with children by using social media and used a variety of grooming strategies with the overall aim of facilitating sexual exploitation and abuse that have occurred exclusively online or in a combination of both online and offline. The aim of this paper is to explore how social media have been used by offenders for the sexual grooming of children. Empirically, the paper is based on court records from three high-profile grooming cases in Sweden (2017, 2018, 2019) that received a lot of public attention. These three cases are of special interest for the aim of this paper since they illustrate the offenders’ grooming behaviour to get in contact with a large number of children. The paper ends with a short reflection whether the Swedish legislation aiming to prevent and regulate ‘grooming behaviour’ could be seen as effective and useful for law enforcement to protect children. Finally, the paper makes an important contribution to the understanding of serious risks and threats that children could encounter when using social media. It makes theoretical and practical contributions to current debates surrounding use and regulation of technology and child protection in our digital society.

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