Human traffickers are now shifting their focus to a rapidly growing online-world where many users unknowingly expose themselves to criminals on a daily basis with children and teenagers most at risk.
According to the We Are Social Digital 2020 report, over 4.5 billion people use the internet while 3.8 million make use of social media platforms. Many use such platforms for entertainment and educational purposes or interaction with others, the internet may serve as a more sinister tool than what many may believe.
Stop The Traffik, a campaign aiming to end human trafficking, says that grooming is often the first phase of human trafficking that may serve as a gateway to further exploitation.
“Common patterns involve traffickers sending friend requests to huge numbers of people, in the hope that some will accept. Alongside social media, online gaming sites and dating apps are the most common places where traffickers target their victims as they involve interactions with complete strangers,” they said.
“Children and teenagers are common targets of online grooming with traffickers often online-stalking users to potentially exploit vulnerabilities or impersonate someone else in efforts to build online relationships and gain trust with criminals later encouraging victims to meet them or send compromising pictures and videos,” explained Jarrod Sadulski, a member of the American Military University.
According to Childline, the common signs of an online groomer are if they:
• Send you lots of messages
• Ask you to keep your conversations secret
• Try to find out more about you
• Start sending you sexual messages
• Get you to share personal information
• Try to blackmail you
Although grooming can take place outside the online-world, traffickers make use of social media platforms as it's simpler to disguise or hide themselves as well as deceive victims making an easier environment to exploit not only children but all internet users.
Nearly 300 million people came online for the first time in the past year with already 60% of the world population making use of the internet, according to the Digital 2020 report, which puts the rapid growth of the online-world into perspective - highlighting the need for safety measures to protect those most vulnerable.