A Linguistic Analysis of Grooming Strategies of Online Child Sex Offenders: Implications for our Understanding of Predatory Sexual Behavior in an Increasingly Computer-Mediated World
There is a large body of evidence to suggest that child sex offenders engage in grooming to facilitate victimization. It has been speculated that this step-by-step grooming process is also used by offenders who access their underage victims online; however, little research has been done to examine whether there are unique aspects of computer-mediated communication that impact the traditional face-to-face grooming process. This study considered the similarities and differences in the grooming process in online environments by analyzing the language used by online offenders when communicating with their victims. The transcripts of 44 convicted online offenders were analyzed to assess a proposed theory of the online grooming process (O’Connell, 2003). Using a stage-based approach, computerized text analysis examined the types of language used in each stage of the offender-victim interaction. The transcripts also were content analyzed to examine the frequency of specific techniques known to be employed by both face-to-face and online offenders, such as flattery. Results reveal that while some evidence of the strategies used by offenders throughout the grooming process are present in online environments, the order and timing of these stages appear to be different. The types (and potential underlying pattern) of strategies used in online grooming support the development of a revised model for grooming in online environments.