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The communicative modus operandi of online child sexual groomers: Recurring patterns in their language use

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Abstract

Online child sexual groomers manipulate their targets into partaking in sexual activity online and, in some cases, offline. To do so they use language (and other semiotic means, such as images) strategically. This study uses a Corpus-Assisted Discourse Studies methodology to identify recurring patterns in online groomers' language use, mapping them to the specific grooming goal that their use in context fulfils. The analysis of the groomers' language (c. 3.3 million words) within 622 conversations from the Perverted Justice website newly identifies 70 such recurring linguistic patterns (three-word collocations), as well as their relative strength of association to one or more grooming goals. The results can be used to inform computational models for detecting online child sexual grooming language. They can also support the development of training resources that raise awareness of typical language structures that characterise online sexual groomers’ communicative modus operandi.

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... Three new moves were identified in Chiang and Grant (2018). Schneevogt et al. (2018), Lorenzo-Dus and Kinzel (2019Kinzel ( , 2021, and Lorenzo-Dus et al. (2020) used Corpus Linguistics tools to examine online grooming language (see chapter three, section 3.1.1). The thesis will contribute new insights to this recent Linguistics scholarship. ...
... One quantitative study looked at 590 chat logs, which was the entirety of the archive in 2017 at the time the study was published (Drouin et al., 2017). The three studies mentioned above using Corpus Linguistics have used the whole archive since the foundation's termination in 2019 3 to analyse communicative patterns in online grooming language (Schneevogt et al., 2018;Lorenzo-Dus & Kinzel, 2019Lorenzo-Dus et al., 2020). Lorenzo-Dus and Kinzel (2019Kinzel ( , 2021, and Lorenzo-Dus et al. (2020) have been the first to apply a Corpus-Assisted Discourse Analysis (CADS) approach (see chapter three, section 3.2 for an overview of CADS) to online grooming, combining quantitative analyses of the communicative patterns of online groomers with more fine-grained qualitative analysis, analysing different aspects of online grooming. ...
... Table 3 shows an overview of the data size, type and methodology used in the studies reviewed to develop a working terminology of online grooming language (see chapter two, section 2.5.3). The data in these studies was comprised of the groomer contribution of the whole PJ database As can be seen, data sizes ranged from seven chat logs to over 600 chat logs (Schneevogt et al., 2018;Lorenzo-Dus & Kinzel, 2019;Lorenzo-Dus et al., 2020). The studies also employed different methodologies, ranging from content/Thematic Analysis (Egan et al., 2011;Williams et al., 2013;Gauz, 2016;Winters et al., 2017;Kloess et al., 2017a), which are primarily qualitative, to logistical models (Pranoto et al., 2015) and LIWC (Gupta et al., 2012;Black et al., 2015), which are primarily quantitative. ...
Thesis
Online grooming has become a widespread and worryingly fast increasing issue in society. This thesis analyses a corpus of online grooming communication, made available by the Perverted Justice (PJ) archive, a non-profit organisation that from 2004 until 2019 employed volunteers, who pretended to be children and entered chat rooms to catch and convict groomers, collaborating with law enforcement. The archive consists of 622 grooming chat logs and approx. 3.7 million words of groomer language. A corpus of this database was built, and a Corpus-Assisted Discourse Studies (CADS) approach used to analyse the language therein. Specifically, the language was compared to a reference corpus of general chat language data (PAN2012) and duration of online grooming and manipulative requesting behaviour were also investigated. The following research questions were answered: 1) What are the features of a corpus of online groomer language compared to that of a general digital chat language reference corpus? Is online groomer language distinct? How are online grooming intentions realised linguistically by online groomers? 2) Does duration of grooming influence the grooming process/intentions? Is usage of specific words/specific grooming intentions associated with different duration of grooming? Can different duration profiles be established and, if so, what are the cutoff points for these duration profiles? 3) How are requests realised in online grooming and how does duration influence this? How do groomers make requests and what support move functions do they use? Does duration influence how requests are made, and the type of support move function that are used? The thesis newly identifies nuanced linguistic realisations of groomers' intentions and strategies, proposing a new working terminology for discourse-based models of online grooming. This is based on a review of the literature followed by an empirical analysis refining this terminology, which has not been done before. It finds evidence for two distinct duration-based grooming approaches and yields a fine-grained qualitative analysis of groomer requests, also influenced by grooming duration. There have only been very few studies using a CADS analysis of such a large dataset of groomer language and this thesis will lead to new insights, implications and significance for the successful analysis, detection and prevention of online grooming.
... Los estudios acerca de los propósitos que tiene el delincuente y el establecimiento de las fases en la consecución de los mismos se han llevado a cabo a partir de la temática de los chats y los subtemas desarrollados, así como desde el análisis del contenido de los mismos de forma general, pero no desde una perspectiva puramente lingüística. Ha sido recientemente cuando han comenzado a realizarse estudios desde la perspectiva del análisis del discurso, desde la teoría de los actos de habla e incluso desde la teoría de la cortesía a partir de la negociación de la relación en la interacción (Lorenzo-Dus et al., 2020). La idea general es que existen características propias del grooming presentes en el uso y los agrupamientos de palabras que permiten detectar una conversación con contenido sexual dirigida a menores. ...
... Los mismos autores llevan a cabo un estudio de discurso asistido por corpus, cuyas siglas se conocen como EDAC, esto es, de análisis de listas de frecuencia de palabras y grupos de palabras o series de palabras clave comparativas, colocaciones, concordancias y agrupamientos de las mismas que no dejan de ser elecciones seminconscientes que los hablantes hacen, todo ello a partir de corpus tipológicamente afines. Pues bien, partiendo de esta metodología, Lorenzo-Dus et al. (2020) intentan determinar cuáles son las colocaciones más recurrentes y representativas de las unidades léxicas en las que las palabras tienden a concurrir y el alcance de su significado, dado que este depende de las relaciones semánticas influidas y conformadas por la experiencia del mundo que nos rodea, en la más pura línea de la semántica cognitiva. Los resultados de su estudio muestran un patrón concreto, en el que identifican setenta colocaciones de tres palabras relacionadas con aspectos del discurso del grooming online; de esas setenta colocaciones, sesenta se utilizaron para realizar un proceso de discurso de grooming online de forma exclusiva o predominante; a su vez, de esas sesenta colocaciones dieciséis se utilizaron únicamente para llevar a cabo un proceso de grooming concreto, i.e. gratificación sexual, aislamiento, acercamiento y prueba de conformidad; por último, de esas dieciséis colocaciones, once estaban vinculadas exclusivamente a la gratificación sexual(véase imagen 2). ...
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RESUMEN: En este trabajo se hace una revisión del ciberdelito de grooming, su descripción y los estudios que desde la lingüística forense contribuyen a identificar a groomers que ocultan su identidad en las redes para llevar a cabo acciones delictivas de abuso sexual a menores. Se aportan datos de prevalencia del grooming y aproximaciones a los perfiles cognitivos y criminales de este tipo de ciberdelincuentes sexuales y su tipificación en el Código Penal español. Por último, se exponen los estudios que desde una perspectiva exclusivamente lingüística se han llevado a cabo en distintos países, presentando a continuación las deficiencias de este tipo de estudios sobre este ciberdelito en el ámbito español. ABSTRACT: 2 In this work we review the cybercrime of grooming, its description and the studies that from the Forensic Linguistics perspective contribute to identify groomers who hide their identity in the network to carry out criminal actions of sexual abuse to minors. Data on the prevalence of grooming are provided but also information on the cognitive and criminal profiles of this kind of cybersex offender and how this crime is categorized in the Spanish Criminal Code. Finally, the studies carried out in different countries from an exclusively linguistic viewpoint are provided, likewise the deficiencies in type of studies on this cybercrime in the Spanish context are outlined. INTRODUCCIÓN Las redes sociales online son estructuras sociales compuestas que reúnen a las personas que comparten un interés común, relación o actividad a través de internet y se producen interacciones en tiempo real, la mayoría de las veces, o en diferido y permiten crear, compartir o participar en sus contenidos previa configuración de un perfil (Comisión Redes Sociales IAB
... In the case of Perverted Justice, a researcher may download a full transcript between a decoy and a groomer from the beginning of the interaction through the offender's arrest. Researchers are able to observe and analyze the entirely of the communication (Black et al., 2015;Kloess et al., 2017;Lorenzo-Dus et al., 2020). However, in some cases, the conversations move to the phone or webcam and are unable to be included. ...
Article
Background Researchers have studied the online sexual grooming of minors extensively since the early 2000s. However, the grooming process is neither new nor restricted to digital media. While grooming and child sexual abuse existed long before the Internet, the advent of the Internet has resulted in more ways in which offenders can interact with candidate victims including offline-only, online-only, and a mix of offline and online. Objective In this study, we conducted a scoping review of grooming strategies both pre- and post-Internet. Our goal was to enumerate strategies analyzed in both time periods, provide similarities and differences, and discuss how changing datasets and technology have impacted the grooming process in both online and offline environments. Methods We performed a scoping review of peer-reviewed journal articles from 1970 to 2020 within PubMed, Medline, PsychInfo, and ERIC. This resulted in 19,679 unique articles. Titles and abstracts were screened resulting in 266 articles which were then read in full, resulting in 93 papers which qualified based on inclusion criteria. Results Grooming strategies identified pre-Internet included: enticements, coercion, isolation, substance abuse, gradual sexualization, and secrecy. In comparison, the strategies identified post-Internet were: enticements, risk assessment, trust, sexualization, fantasy, secrecy, isolation, meeting, media progression, deception, coercion, substance use as a tool, authority, and repetition. Conclusions While grooming strategies overlapped pre and post-Internet, the timing and scope of concepts differed. Additionally, grooming offline began to incorporate technology post-Internet which functioned to increase accessibility and isolation of the victim in a similar manner to online grooming.
... To identify sexual grooming behaviour in the chat messages, we adopted the approach followed by several authors in the most recent relevant works (Drouin et al., 2017;Lorenzo-Dus and Kinzel, 2019;Lorenzo-Dus et al., 2020) analysing the Perverted-Justice Dataset (PJ), which although dated and relatively small-scale, was the only publicly available dataset of chats produced by online groomers to date. To this end, we search the chat messages comprising our dataset for sexual content keywords defined in Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) corpus (Pennebaker et al., 2015). ...
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... To identify sexual grooming behaviour in the chat messages, we adopted the approach followed by several authors in the most recent relevant works [17,30,31] analysing the Perverted-Justice Dataset (PJ), which although dated and relatively small-scale, was the only publicly available dataset of chats produced by online groomers to date. To this end, we search the chat messages comprising our dataset for sexual content keywords defined in Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) corpus [45]. ...
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Social networks are evolving to engage their users more by providing them with more functionalities. One of the most attracting ones is streaming. Users may broadcast part of their daily lives to thousands of others world-wide and interact with them in real-time. Unfortunately, this feature is reportedly exploited for grooming. In this work, we provide the first in-depth analysis of this problem for social live streaming services. More precisely, using a dataset that we collected, we identify predatory behaviours and grooming on chats that bypassed the moderation mechanisms of the LiveMe, the service under investigation. Beyond the traditional text approaches, we also investigate the relevance of emojis in this context, as well as the user interactions through the gift mechanisms of LiveMe. Finally, our analysis indicates the possibility of grooming towards minors, showing the extent of the problem in such platforms.
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We are in the midst of a technological revolution whereby, for the first time, researchers can link daily word use to a broad array of real-world behaviors. This article reviews several computerized text analysis methods and describes how Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) was created and validated. LIWC is a transparent text analysis program that counts words in psychologically meaningful categories. Empirical results using LIWC demonstrate its ability to detect meaning in a wide variety of experimental settings, including to show attentional focus, emotionality, social relationships, thinking styles, and individual differences.
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Within the literature individuals who use the internet to facilitate the sexual abuse of a minor are generally classified as being fantasy or contact driven. Classification is based upon the intended location for sexual climax: fantasy driven individuals aim to reach sexual climax online, whereas contact driven individuals target minors to achieve physical sex offline. This review systematically investigates whether there is an empirical basis for the distinction between these two proposed discrete types. Comparison of tactics and behaviour are considered to examine whether the contact vs. fantasy distinction is useful. A two-stage literature selection process, considered against pre-determined inclusion criteria, identified a total of twenty-two studies. As methodological heterogeneity limited the ability to conduct pooled analysis, a narrative synthesis of data employing an interpretive approach was conducted. This showed that the contact and fantasy distinction is ambiguous, given that both groups engage in online behaviours that provide them with online sexual gratification that can also lead to offline contact. Furthermore, no clear pattern of behaviour was found to define contact and fantasy individuals idiosyncratically. The European Online Grooming Project typology is thus proposed as a better representation of this behaviour; intimacy seeking, adaptable and hypersexualized groups. The distinction between these groups focuses primarily on the intensity of the relationship, acknowledging that sexual abuse can occur with or without offline contact. This review also highlights the need for larger, methodologically robust studies that examine the behaviour of online child sexual offenders.
Article
Online Grooming is the process whereby an adult gains the trust of a minor in order to exploit him/her, through the use of cyber-technology. Despite a global increase in online sexual exploitation, research into online grooming is scant, especially from a linguistic perspective. Our study examines online groomers’ attempts at gaining their targets’ trust through compliments. This focus is justified by the fact that, although praise is known to be used regularly in online and offline grooming, its linguistic realisation via the speech act of complimenting has not been analysed to date. We analyse the topics, syntactic realisation patterns and discourse functions of a corpus of 1268 compliments extracted from 68 online grooming interactions. The results point to (1) a prevalence of compliments about physical appearance, of both a sexual and a non-sexual orientation, which increases alongside speed of grooming; (2) high syntactic formulaicity levels regardless of speed of grooming; and (3) use of compliments to frame and support online grooming processes that seek to isolate the targets, provide the online groomers’ with sexual gratification and enable them to gauge the targets’ compliance levels. Overall, the results both provide new insights into the speech act of complimenting from a hitherto unexamined communicative context and contribute to understanding the communicative process of online grooming.
Article
This study focused on the behavior of convicted offenders who had approached profiles of boys and girls online for offline sexual encounters. A detailed coding scheme was designed to code and analyze offenders' grooming behaviors in transcripts of conversational interactions between convicted offenders and 52 volunteer workers purporting to be girls and 49 volunteer workers who masqueraded as boys. Behavioral differences and commonalities associated with the gender of the groomed child decoys were examined. Results showed that offenders approaching boys were significantly older and pretended to be younger than offenders approaching girls. When compared to offenders grooming boy decoys, offenders grooming girl decoys typically built more rapport, were less sexually explicit, and approached sexual topics carefully and indirectly. Offenders also used more strategies to conceal contact with girls than with boys.
Article
Online grooming affects a significant number of children and teenagers. Yet research into its characteristics is scarce. This study uses a Computer-Mediated Discourse Analysis approach (Herring, 2004, 2013) in order to examine a corpus of online grooming chat logs (c. 75,000 words) from Perverted-Justice.com. Results reveal the following idiosyncratic features: (1) a marked used of explicit and direct sexual solicitation; (2) a wide range of deceptive trust development strategies; and (3) an emphasis on testing the victim's compliance levels throughout the entire chat log and beyond groomers' secrecy and exclusivity establishing concerns. Online grooming is found to operate as a complex interactional network and to encompass different groomer profiles. To accommodate these findings, a new model of online grooming discourse is proposed.
Article
The Linguistics of Laughter examines what speakers try to achieve by producing 'laughter-talk' (the talk preceding and eliciting an episode of laughter) and, by using abundant examples from language corpora, what hearers are signalling when they produce laughter. In particular, Alan Partington focuses on the tactical use of laughter-talk to achieve specific rhetorical, and strategic, ends: for example, to construct an identity, to make an argumentative point, to threaten someone else's face or save one's own. Although laughter and humour are by no means always related, the book also considers the implications these corpus-based observations may have about humour theory in general. As one of the first works to have recourse to such a sizeable databank of examples of laughter in spontaneous running talk, this impressive volume is an essential point of reference and an inspiration for scholars with an interest in corpus linguistics, discourse, humour, wordplay, irony and laughter-talk as a social phenomenon. © 2006 Alan Partington.
Article
When is language considered ‘impolite’? Is impolite language only used for anti-social purposes? Can impolite language be creative? What is the difference between ‘impoliteness’ and ‘rudeness’? Grounded in naturally-occurring language data and drawing on findings from linguistic pragmatics and social psychology, Jonathan Culpeper provides a fascinating account of how impolite behaviour works. He examines not only its forms and functions but also people's understandings of it in both public and private contexts. He reveals, for example, the emotional consequences of impoliteness, how it shapes and is shaped by contexts, and how it is sometimes institutionalised. This book offers penetrating insights into a hitherto neglected and poorly understood phenomenon. It will be welcomed by students and researchers in linguistics and social psychology in particular.
Article
The European Online Grooming Project from 2009 to 2011 involved researchers from Norway, Italy, Belgium and the UK. The project had three separate but interlinked phases. The first was a scooping project. The second and third phases involved interviews with convicted online groomers across Europe and dissemination activity respectively. The key features of grooming behavior the study identified do not apply to all groomers in all contacts they have with young people. These features of online grooming include factors that help maintain the behavior such as the online environment, dissonance and offenders perceptions of young people and their behavior. The research also identified salient behaviors in the grooming process such as: scanning the online environment for potential people to contact, the identity adopted by the groomer (be it their own or another); the nature of contact with the young person; the different ways in which the online groomer can intensify the process of grooming and the diverse range of outcomes toward the end of the process. In particular, it is clear from the research that not all episodes of online grooming result in a physical meeting. The first 'type' of groomer identified is the distorted attachment offender. Men in this group had offence supportive beliefs that involved seeing contact with the young person as a 'relationship'. The second type is the adaptable online groomer. This group of men had offence supportive beliefs that involved their own needs and seeing the victim as mature and capable. Finally, the hyper-sexualized group of men was characterized by extensive indecent image collections of children and significant online contact with other sexual offenders or offender groups.
This paper presents a number of characteristics of the Internet that makes it attractive to online groomers. Relevant Internet characteristics include disconnected personal communication, mediating technology, universality, network externalities, distribution channel, time moderator, low‐cost standard, electronic double, electronic double manipulation, information asymmetry, infinite virtual capacity, independence in time and space, cyberspace, and dynamic social network. Potential sex offenders join virtual communities, where they meet other persons who have the same interest. A virtual community provides an online meeting place where people with similar interests can communicate and find useful information. Communication between members may be via email, bulletin boards, online chat, web‐based conferencing or other computer‐based media.
How Safe Are Our Children? the Most Comprehensive Overview of Child Protection in the UK. NSPCC
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Bentley, Holly, Burrows, Andy, Clarke, Laura, Gillgan, Abbie, Glen, Jazmin, Hafizi, Maria, Letendrie, Fiona, Miller, Pam, O'Hagan, Orla, Patel, Priya, Peppiate, Jessica, Stanley, Kate, Starr, Emily, Vasco, Nikki, Walker, Janaya, 2018. How Safe Are Our Children? the Most Comprehensive Overview of Child Protection in the UK. NSPCC, London. https://learning.nspcc.org.uk/media/1067/how-safe-are-our-children-2018.pdf.
Collocations in context: a new perspective on collocation networks
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Bogdanova, Dasha, Rosso, Paolo, Solorio, Thamar, 2014. Exploring high-level features for detecting cyberpedophilia. Comput. Speech Lang 28 (1), 108e120. Brezina, Vaclav, McEnery, Tony, Wattam, Stephen, 2015. Collocations in context: a new perspective on collocation networks. Int. J. Corpus Linguist. 20 (2), 139e173.
Linguistic analysis of chat transcripts from child predator undercover sex stings
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Drouin, Michelle, Boyd, Ryan, Hancock, Jeffrey T., James, Audrey, 2017. Linguistic analysis of chat transcripts from child predator undercover sex stings. J. Forensic Psychiatry Psychol. 28 (4), 437e457. https://doi.org/10.1080/14789949.2017.129170.
Useful Statistics for Corpus Linguistics. A Mosaic of Corpus Linguistics: Selected Approaches
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Gries, Stefan T., 2010. Useful Statistics for Corpus Linguistics. A Mosaic of Corpus Linguistics: Selected Approaches, 66, pp. 269e291.
ChatCoder: toward the tracking and categorization of internet predators
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Kontostathis, April, Edwards, Lynne, Leatherman, Amanda, 2009. ChatCoder: toward the tracking and categorization of internet predators. In: Workshop Held in Conjunction with the Ninth SIAM International Conference on Data Mining (2009).
Politeness theory and relational work
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Leech, Geoffrey, 1974. Semantics. Penguin, Harmondsworth. Locher, Miriam, Watts, Richard, 2005. Politeness theory and relational work. J. Politeness Res. 1 (1), 9e33.
Pragmatics e an Introduction, second ed
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Mey, Jacob, 2001. Pragmatics e an Introduction, second ed. Wiley Blackwell, London.
Central to his work is the development of novel approaches to the analysis of language, based on the exploration of the relationship between practical and theoretical aspects involved in Corpus Linguistics methodology
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  • Di
Dr Matteo Di Cristofaro's research expertise is the fields of Corpus Linguistics and Cognitive Linguistics. Central to his work is the development of novel approaches to the analysis of language, based on the exploration of the relationship between practical and theoretical aspects involved in Corpus Linguistics methodology.