A MUM has warned other parents to know the signs of online grooming after her nine-year-old son was targeted by predators.
Sharni*, from Australia, exclusively told Kidspot what she found when looking through her son’s phone one day, after his behaviour drastically changed over the last two months.
The mum explains her son had been “reserved, distracted and not himself” over the past six to eight weeks.
She said he always wanted to be alone in his room with the door shut, and rushed having dinner or showering so he could get back to his phone.
So one day when she heard it beeping in his bedroom while he was at school, she decided to have a look – but was devastated by what she found.
Sharni found dozens of messages from predators who’d sent her son “sick” and “explicit” content on an app called Discord.
It describes itself as the “easiest way to communicate over voice, video, and text, whether you’re part of a school club, a nightly gaming group, a worldwide art community, or just a handful of friends that want to hang out”.
She said: “They used words such as rape, and suicide – and even sent my son photos of how to commit suicide with a rope. They told my son that everyone close to them had died and all they had was my son.”
The predator randomly added her son, who assumed they were a gamer, until they started talking about ‘college girls’.
Sharni said her son had told them he was 12, instead of nine, but that didn’t stop them sending him sexually explicit requests.
NSPCC signs of grooming
- Being very secretive about how they're spending their time, including when online
- Having an older boyfriend or girlfriend
- Having money or new things like clothes and mobile phones that they can't or won't explain
- Underage drinking or drug taking
- Spending more or less time online or on their devices
- Being upset, withdrawn or distressed
- Sexualised behaviour, language or an understanding of sex that's not appropriate for their age
- Spending more time away from home or going missing for periods of time.
She said: “The predator asked him to check in with them often, to stay awake past his bed time, to arrange to be home alone, it is absolutely shocking.
“They were asking the size of his genitals using ‘kid-friendly’ works like ‘pee pee’ for penis and ‘smooch’ for kissing and all other weird comments.”
She added they even got her son to use the word ‘rape’, adding it made her feel sick to read.
Luckily Sharni had taught her son about ‘stranger danger’, so he didn’t give out his real name either.
Despite that, the mum says her son was taken in by the groomer, who was messaging him for at least six weeks.
But it wasn’t just online messages, as the predators started calling her son, who eventually stopped answering as it made him feel “uncomfortable”.
Sharni says her son was completely unaware of what was really happening, claiming they’d “groomed him” to the point where he was saying he “loves them back”.
She said her son was a “clever, well-behaved, humble, shy boy” who came from a “very safe loved home”, but they still managed to “brainwash” him.
They used words such as rape, and suicide
As soon as she found the messages Sharni went straight to the police, who took the phone to investigate further with the child protection unit.
When it’s returned, Sharni says she’s deleting all messaging apps and will be monitoring the device carefully.
Sharni says she’s still “devastated” by what she found, and is taking her son to see a psychologist.
The whole experience has been an “eye opener”, adding no matter how much parents teach their kids, they’re still “young, vulnerable and clueless”.
Who to contact if you think a child is in danger
- Call Stop it now! – People living in the UK and Ireland can call for free on 0808 1000 900 (Monday – Thursday 9am-9pm and Friday 9am-5pm).
- Message online – Stop it now! have a secure messaging service available 24-hours a day.
- Childline can be contacted 24/7. Calls to 0800 1111 are free and confidential. Children can also contact Childline online.
- Call the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000, email [email protected] or fill in our online form.
- PACE works with parents and carers of children who are, or at risk of, sexual exploitation. You can call them for confidential help and advice on 0113 240 5226 or fill in their online form.
- Call 999 if the child is at immediate risk or call 101 if you think a crime has been committed
- Call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or online.
- Contact your local child protection services. You can find their contact details on the website for the local authority the child lives in.
She added: “Us, as parents, need to sometimes be overprotective because this could have been so much worse.”
Sharni said parents “need to be made aware” of online grooming, adding parents shouldn’t “think it won’t happen”.
*Name changed for privacy reasons.
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