Online Predators Use “Grooming” as a Lure for Human Trafficking of Young Women and Girls

The horror of human trafficking is the same as a form of sex slavery, but in our internet-driven world, abduction takes on a lurid aspect as it involves a process of grooming by the predator. Human trafficking is another of the dark aspects of cybercrime and violence, breaching the human condition in the worst possible ways. Internet chat rooms and social media is a rich and fertile ground for those that want to locate young women and girls to express things that they many normally not talk about with their existing friends or family. In a short time, there is a face to face meeting and that is when abduction or kidnapping and the nightmares begin.

South Africa joins many parts of the world that is trying to combat the problem of human trafficking; but it is a complex scenario that involves many variables. One attempt at addressing the issue was the South African ratification of the Palermo Protocol and then the Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in in Persons Act of 2013 that was operational in 2015. However, just having the laws in place has done little to reduce or stop human trafficking, as few understand the nuances of online predators and none of the young women and girls are willing to share the possibility of being groomed and lured.

Predators typically cruise the net to read and watch the conversations of young women and girls. They base their responses on what they think the girls/women are looking for in a friend and then create a personae to match it. The communication process takes an average of around six months, during which the predator entices additional topics which reinforces the belief of the young person that they have found a true and heartfelt friend. In many cases the predator may introduce subjects that are of a sexual nature. The point of the predator is to appeal to the emotional side of the young woman or girl so that they can feel confident in thinking that the predator understands them. The final step is an in-person meeting.

Human trafficking on the internet is a complex and multi-layered topic that requires the education of the general populace in the warning signs of a predator and the cautionary behaviour to avoid putting themselves in these situations.

“The Da Vinci Foundation, a subsidiary of Gateway Health Institute, has spent a considerable amount of time at schools in South Africa promoting cyber safety through an education program focused on cyberbullying, stalking and trafficking. As we highlight the topic of grooming as an educational focus for young girls, the Foundation has explored how the online, emotional connection is built by the perpetrator to gain trust for the purpose of sexual exploitation, sexual abuse or trafficking. In the cases that the Foundation has been made aware of, the grooming process took place over a minimum period of six months and resulted in online sexual abuse.”

– Sharon Knowles, Da Vinci Foundation