How do you recognize solicitation, harassment and strange messages?

The original Finnish text has been published in the guide “Kysy, kohtaa, kuuntele. Opas seksuaalisen houkuttelun ja seksuaaliväkivallan ennaltaehkäisyyn nuorisotyössä”, Koordinaatti.
Although this article deals with young people, children may also be targets of sexual solicitation and harassment.

Joking, exciting messages, harassment or solicitation?

The communication between young people often has sexual undertones, especially between dating couples and also “as a joke” between friends. Sexting means sending sexual images, messages or videos. The risk is that the contents of such messages end up in the hands of outsiders. Messaging is generally okay between young people who are roughly the same age, as long as nobody is pressured into messaging or sexual acts.

Grooming

Grooming is a solicitation process where the other party is persuaded to commit sexual acts. Sometimes the messages are direct sexual propositions or insinuating questions, but often they seem innocent at first: the perpetrator may compliment the young person on their photo or start a conversation about an interest or hobby that they seem to have in common. The young person may find the conversation fascinating and the other party may seem like a nice person who is interested specifically in them.

The perpetrator often tries to quickly move the conversation away from the public channel into private messaging and offers the young person understanding, consolation and friendship. They give the young person something that the young person finds important. It may take a long time for the young person to realize that there is reason to be wary. This may be because the conversation culture surrounding the young person is similar. Friends may speak with a sexual undertone, or the adult may have known how to use emotive expressions that they have picked up from young people’s conversations.

Solicitation may be revealed to the young person when e.g.:

  • The young person has felt that the adult provides safety, but suddenly the adult asks for a nude photo.
  • The adult has accustomed the young person to talk about sexuality and the young person trusts them, but the adult unexpectedly sends them a nude photo or commits sexual acts in front of the young person.
  • The adult suddenly demands a meeting, blackmails the young person, acts jealous or threatens them with violence.
  • During a meeting, the adult starts to touch the young person sexually, although the young person had hoped for a hug, a walk together or a conversation.

When the young person notices that the adult feels differently about the relationship, they may withdraw, block the adult and seek help, if needed. Sometimes the young person may allow the situation to develop, because they feel overconfident in their ability to control situations; they have an unrealistic perception of the opposite party; or they seek security, attention or excitement from an adult regardless of the consequences.

Teach young people to recognize harassment, solicitation and strange messages

When you discuss safe internet use with a young person, tell them that it is important to be able to recognize where the line between so-called normal messaging and harassment and solicitation goes.

Here are a few questions for the young person to think about:

  • What does the sender of the message have to say? Strange or half-acquainted adults should have nothing to say to underage children. Or if they do, they should stick to the subject and not try to become friends who message the young person about personal matters.
  • Does the sender of the message compliment you so much it is abnormal? Do they ask questions too enthusiastically?
  • Does the person seem to have a crush on you? A message containing sexual content sent by an adult to an underage child is against the law.
  • Is the sender of the messages particularly persistent? Do they want to chat with you in a private communication channel (WhatsApp, Snapchat etc.)?
  • Who is the sender of the message? What information about the sender can you find by googling them? Do they have social media channels? How about followers? Do the followers seem like real people?
  • How does the message make you feel? If content of the message is strange, exceptional or distressing, you should not continue messaging. If, on the other hand, you feel slightly excited or enthusiastic about the attention you are getting from the adult, consider whether you can trust a strange adult and how much of your personal life you should share with them.

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