Online child sexual offenders' language use in real-time chats

Typing on a mobile phone photo

We analysed chat log communications between 38 adult males and children who were accessed by the men via social media for sexually exploitative purposes. Our goal was to understand how sexual offenders engage with children online and the dialogue they use to elicit compliance with sexual requests. Results revealed 72 discrete linguistic tactics, contained within eight overarching dialogue-based ‘moves’. Tactics were non-sequential (ie dynamic) and focused mainly on requests for sexual activity. Three distinct subgroup patterns of tactic use were evident. Implications for theory and practice are discussed.


URLs correct as at November 2021

Aitken S, Gaskell D & Hodkinson A 2018. Online sexual grooming: Exploratory comparison of themes arising from male offenders’ communications with male victims compared to female victims. Deviant Behavior 39: 1170–1190.

Bennett N & O’Donohue W 2014. The construct of grooming in child sexual abuse: Conceptual and measurement issues. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse 23: 957–976.

Bhatia VK 1993. Analysing genre: Language use in professional settings. Pearson Education

Biber D, Connor U & Upton T A 2007. Discourse on the move: Using corpus analysis to describe discourse structure. John Benjamins Publishing Company

Black PJ, Wollis M, Woodworth M & Hancock JT 2015. A linguistic analysis of grooming strategies of online child sex offenders: Implications for our understanding of predatory sexual behavior in an increasingly computer-mediated world. Child Abuse & Neglect 44: 140149.

Blanca M, Alarcón R, Arnau J, Bono R & Bendayan R 2018. Effect of variance ratio on ANOVA robustness: Might 1.5 be the limit? Behavior Research Methods 50: 937–962.

Bronfenbrenner U 1979. The ecology of human development: Experiments by nature and design. Harvard University Press

Chiang E 2018. Rhetorical moves and identity performance in online child sexual abuse interactions (Doctoral thesis). Aston University, Birmingham, UK.

Chiang E & Grant T 2019. Deceptive identify performance: Offender moves and multiple identities in online abuse conversations. Applied Linguistics 40: 675698.

Chiang E & Grant T 2017. Online grooming: Moves and strategies. Language and Law/Linguagem e Direito 4: 103141.

Grosskopf A 2010. Online interactions involving suspected paedophiles who engage male children. Trends & issues in crime and criminal justice no. 403. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology.

Henshaw M, Darjee R & Clough JA 2020. Online child sexual offending. In I Bryce & W Petherick (eds), Child sexual abuse: Forensic issues in evidence, impact, and management. Academic Press: 85–108

Kloess JA, Hamilton-Giachritsis CE & Beech AR 2019. Offense processes of online sexual grooming and abuse of children via internet communication platforms. Sexual Abuse 31: 73-96.

Kloess JA, Seymour-Smith S, Hamilton-Giachritsis CE, Long ML, Shipley D & Beech AR 2017. A qualitative analysis of offenders’ modus operandi in sexually exploitative interactions with children online. Sexual Abuse 29: 563591.

Lorenzo-Dus N & Kinzel A 2019. ‘So is your mom as cute as you?’: Examining patterns of language use in online sexual grooming of children. Journal of Corpora and Discourse Studies 2: 15–39.

Mann RE, Hanson RK & Thornton D 2010. Assessing risk for sexual recidivism: Some proposals on the nature of psychologically meaningful risk factors. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment 22: 191–217.

Mann RE, Webster S, Wakeling HC & Marshall WL 2007. The measurement and influence of child sexual abuse supportive beliefs. Psychology, Crime & Law 13: 443–458.

O’Connell R 2003. A typology of child cybersexploitation and online grooming practices. Preston: Cyberspace Research Unit, University of Central Lancashire.

Open Science Collaboration 2015. Estimating the reproducibility of psychological science. Science 349(6251).

Ospina M, Harstall C & Dennett L 2010. Sexual exploitation of children and youth over the internet: A rapid review of the scientific literature. Alberta: Institute of Health Economics.

Powell M, Cassematis P, Benson M, Smallbone S & Wortley R 2014. Police officers’ strategies for coping with the stress of investigating internet child exploitation. Traumatology 20: 32–42.

Schneevogt D, Chiang E & Grant T 2018. Do Perverted Justice chat logs contain examples of overt persuasion and sexual extortion? A research note responding to Chiang and Grant (2017, 2018). Language and Law/Linguagem e Direito 5: 97102.

Swales J 2011. Aspects of article introductions. University of Michigan Press.

Wager N et al. 2018. Rapid evidence assessment: Quantifying the extent of online-facilitated child sexual abuse. Report for the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse.

Williams R, Elliott IA & Beech AR 2013. Identifying sexual grooming themes used by internet sex offenders. Deviant Behavior 34: 135152.