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Online Sexualized Trolling vs. Online Child Molesters vs Sexualized Predation


We at the White Hatter believe that no matter the who or why of how a person may inappropriately sexually engage a person under the age of 18 online, it is always concerning, disturbing, and often criminal. It is something what we parents need to be alive to and speak to our children about.

Very recently we have seen some “special interest groups” targeting and labelling many social networks and apps that are very popular with our teens, such as Instagram and TikTok, claiming that they are “chalk-a-block” full of pedophiles who use them for sexual predation. Yes, wherever youth hangout online there will be those who will prey upon a small group for sexualized predation (pedophiles). Really, this is no different from the offline world. Often, these special interest groups will use the word “pedophile” because it evokes such a strong human reaction, or as Media Smarts Canada states,

“When most people think about sexual risk and harm on the Internet, sexual predators come to mind. Because of its sensational nature, the spectre of unscrupulous adults preying upon and sexually exploiting kids online gets a lot of media attention. Although this does happen, sensational headlines do not help us understand the nature and true extent of the problem or how to deal with it effectively.”

Empirically and anecdotally, we are finding that many of the online disturbing sexual contacts that we are seeing in these popular sites are not necessarily being committed by the true pedophile, but rather by someone who the youth either knows, loves, or trusts (usually another teen).

I am not a psychologist or psychiatrist who specializes in this subject matter, although I was involved in investigations of pedophiles in my past law enforcement career. We do know one such medical expert here in Canada who is, and her name is Dr. Cynthia Baxter.

We asked Dr. Baxter if there was a difference between what we have identified as the sexualized troll and the true online pedophile, and here’s what she shared:

Sexualized Troll:

Is a person whose “motivation tends to be Machiavellian, with very little sexual motivation, where they choose what to say sexually based on their best guesses about what will upset the target the most”. Dr. Baxter also states that when it comes to these trolls, “it would be very, very, very rare they would actually be a pedophile.”

Online Pedophiles:

According to Dr. Baxter, “an online pedophile is a person who has sexual fantasies/urges/behaviours involving prepubescent children for at least six months.”

Sexualized Child Molesters:

A third category that has been identified by the psychological and psychiatric community is Sexualized Child Molesters. Like the troll, this group of offenders do not appear to be motivated by pedophilia, but some may have a sexual compulsion for or a primary sexual attraction to adolescent boys or girls. Some online child molesters may be primarily sexually attracted to adults, but target adolescents for reasons that may include “impulse, curiosity, anger, or desire for power. For some of these offenders, the danger and excitement of seducing underage youths are themselves a source of sexual arousal.”

As educators and parents/caregivers, we need to ensure that what we teach is based upon the best evidence and research possible. We need to stop saying that all online strangers are bad, and that all online initiated sex crimes are committed by pedophiles, because the evidence and research shows otherwise: Again, we believe that anyone who inappropriately sexually engages a person under the age of 18 online is always concerning, disturbing, and often criminal. Having said this, saying that these popular social networks and Apps are “chalk-a-block” full of pedophiles is not being truthful, and disingenuous to our kids. These special interest groups are attempting to use fear in an attempt to “scare our kids safe” which, specific to this topic area, doesn’t work. We believe that if we provided the best evidence and information to our kids about issues such as this, we are providing them with the best defence to ensure that they are not targeted online. Yes, online sexual predation by online pedophiles is a reality that we parents, caregivers, and educators need to be alive to and speak to our children about, but according to research, it is not as common as these special interest groups, and often the media, want to lead us to believe. We believe, based upon a combination of the academic, empirical and anecdotal research, that online sexualized crimes are not commonly committed by the stranger or a pedophile, but often by someone who the child either knows, loves, or trusts (usually another teen) followed by sexualized trolls and online sexual child molesters. All three categories of offenders (online sexualized trolls, child molesters, and pedophiles) are a concern and we should be talking to our teens about all three in an open and honest way, but let’s do it in a way that is educational and enlightening and not frightening based on the best evidence and research.

The way that we parents and caregivers can help protect kids from any form of concerning, disturbing, or criminal sexualized online predation is to know the differences, thus why we hope parents will read the links that we have posted in this article to help provide the who and why. As one of our favorite tacticians said, “Know the enemy and you will win 100 battles.” -Sun Tzu

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The White Hatter