Online child predators, the evolution of pornography, and the changing culture of child and youth protection were among the issues discussed at the 14th annual conference for VIRTUS programme co-ordinators, held August 23–25 in Chicago, Illinois, USA.
VIRTUS is the programme and service of The National Catholic Risk Retention Group, Inc in the United States. It is endorsed by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. The VIRTUS website (www.virtus.org) states that the Protecting God’s Children programme focuses on the “education and training of clergy, staff, volunteers, parents, and other adults about the nature of child abuse, child sexual abuse, and how adults can help prevent harm to children. The Protecting God’s Children programme turns every parish into a child-safe haven”.
One of the main presentations was done by Dr Sharon Doty, Esq, VIRTUS consultant, on ‘Three aspects of grooming: Online predators.’ She explored psychological, physical and community grooming, noting the increased sophistication from online predators as they find new ways to lure children into dangerous alliances. She also spoke of recent research showing the similarities between online and offline grooming, the language types in grooming, manipulation techniques in grooming, warning signs of grooming in offline vs online solicitation, and monitoring challenges.