The success of social media is a result of people’s basic desire for a ‘need to connect’. When you receive a ‘friend request’ on Facebook, you have a curiosity to know who the person is and if the person at the other end is sweet at the initial stage, it leads to further curiosity to know more and thus starts a regular ‘chat’ with the new found friend.
With mostly empathetic response to everything you say or do, leaves you almost hoping that this person could well be the one you have been waiting for all this time.
From here comes the stage when the ‘other’ person suggests exchanging pictures. If the ‘other’ person is a fake or the intention to contact ‘predatory’ then usually, the ‘other’ person submits fake pictures, pictures that will ensure your continued engagement.
In some cases, the ‘other’ person may request you to come ‘live’ on cam. In such cases, you may have an actual visual but may still not know his true identity or location, which in the cyber world, can be easily masked, at least to an amateur.
The next stage is usually a request from the ‘other’ person to meet up, in person. And this is the stage where an innocent relationship between two so- called ‘friends’ converts to becoming that of an aggressor and victim. The aggressor may or may not make an aggressive move in the initial meeting but sooner or later graduates to making one and this usually ends up very bad for the victim.
The aggressor’s intention may well be sexual or may well be to commit a monetary fraud. In many cases, a sexual encounter is recorded and used subsequently to blackmail the victim. This happened last year in Delhi, when a young woman befriended a young working professional and set up a classical honey trap. After the first meeting, she encouraged the young man to accompany her to her residence, where she recorded the entire intimate exchange between them and subsequently, she along with her male colleagues began to blackmail the young man.
But in 90 percent of the cases, it’s the female who falls victim to a man’s predatory intentions. In most cases, it ends in rape followed by harrowing experience of blackmail for money or favour. Unfortunately, victims as young as 11 years have fallen prey to men who pretend to be of the same age group and build up a trust eventually leading to friendship. It’s only when a meet is set up that the unsuspecting girl discovers the fraud but by then it’s usually too late.
If a rape or sexual molestation occurs, the victim is usually too ashamed and frightened to bring up the incident within the family and many times, this becomes the reason for the aggressor to continue to exploit the girl’s helplessness, to further inflict abuse.
The number of sexual assaults initiated over the internet is increasing rapidly, as more first time users are getting on to the internet and begin using social media for the first time. They are most vulnerable and can easily fall prey to a lurking predator. Of these, teenage girls are most vulnerable. Therefore, it is very important that awareness on the risks of the internet be made at the school level, as also the home. The problem is not restricted to girls alone, boys are equally vulnerable.
A cyber predator or stalker can be classified into three broad types of profile:
The obsessive type. This is usually someone who has been or still is in a relationship or friendship with the victim. If the relationship goes sour, the stalker is unable to accept this and continues to pursue and harass the victim that sometimes leads to violence or sexual abuse.
The delusional kind. Here the person becomes obsessed with the victim, in a one-sided relationship. The aggressor tends to believe, in his or her mind, that there exists a connection or relation between self and the other person. This kind of one-sided obsession is often seen in cases concerning film celebrities or sports stars. They often fall victim to an obsessive fan. The pursuit may be offline, online or both.
The aggressive kind. This is someone who refuses to accept being either turned down or ignored by the victim. This usually leads to a violent act against the victim that may or may not be sexual in nature.
In all the three profiles mentioned above, the situation may be restricted to the internet only or may well extend to an offline scenario.
An aggressor may be driven by feelings of obsession of love, sexual desire, a hurt ego – usually seen in cases of an ex-employee or someone known, who has been publicly humiliated and turned down, which leads to a feeling of hate and revenge. It could be any or all the above that drives a person to become a predator or stalker.
But then, there is a more dangerous predator out there. This one is usually a loner and someone who is faceless in his own community and does not get along with people. He finds the anonymity of the internet as a fertile ground for him to look for someone to dominate and express his pent up feeling, usually through a sexual act.
This sexual predator is the most dangerous of them all and the internet is full of them and of all ages. There are obsessive pedophiles out there and then there are straight, gay, or simply transgender hunters and they keep surfing various chat rooms and social media, looking for someone to bait.
In the offline world, there are enough dangers lurking within our families, our neighborhoods and schools, as witnessed in the recent incidents of rape and molestation at schools in Bangalore. But the cyber world is another platform altogether, where the reach of a sexual predator is limitless. And that is a frightening prospect.
It is to fight this very real threat that we adults have to become aware of the threat ourselves and then ensure that we fulfill our responsibility of educating and making aware, all those young children of the dangers of the internet and social media.
The new media is a tool that can be used to our advantage or disadvantage. ‘Awareness’ is the only thing that stands between them. It’s time to discuss this with those around us, children and adults, for the next victim could well be someone dear to us.