Protecting children online: Investigation of suspects’ opening chat grooming language and interactions with police decoys

A child on a laptop

The recent pandemic has seen a rapid rise in the use of online social networks by children. These networks present opportunities for predators to access, groom, and exploit children. Given the scale and impacts of child sexual abuse, analysis of predators’ language is urgently required to understand how they establish relationships with unacquainted children at the initial stages of online grooming. Focusing on the opening sequences of nonsexual chat interactions between predators and police decoys, this project uses conversation analysis techniques to identify recurrent language and interactional behaviours that enable predators to gain unacquainted children’s trust during opening chat sequences. By systematically documenting the persuasive online language of predators, this project can ultimately better protect children online by informing the early identification of online predators by police, educators, children, carers and other protective adults. Specifically, this research will identify typical predator interactions at initial contact with undercover police posing as children, to produce new knowledge and clearer definitions of online grooming processes, prior to the conversation becoming explicit. The project’s evidence-based information about initial online interaction will inform current child abuse prevention programming, child protection curriculum, online child protection by police, nonsexual online grooming legislation, and community awareness efforts.

Project team:
Partner organisations:


Westpac Banking Corporation

Project partnered with SAPOL’S Joint Anti Child Exploitation Team (JACET)