Danny's Story - Grooming

A parent’s view – he just couldn’t stop going online and he didn’t think it wrong to share sexualised images.

Our son was just 11 when his friends introduced him to social media. At first, he would just use the family PC to check people’s statuses and send messages. He then discovered other social media platforms – ones that I hadn’t heard of before. Turns out that was just the tip of the iceberg. He was on loads.

We always suspected that he might be exploring his sexuality, and in hindsight this could have made him more vulnerable.

But then he started to retreat into his bedroom and use his phone a lot; sometimes whipping it away so that we couldn’t see him using it. He got testy, and kept saying that his friends understood him more than we did. We thought it was just a teenage phase he was going through and left him to it. He became really quiet, and then really snappy and really withdrawn. He was really sensitive and would have what I can only describe as ‘emotional meltdowns.’

It was only then that we made the connection that his excessive internet use started just before his started to change. He would get really shifty if you asked him what he was looking at on the tablet, and he stopped talking to us so much. I never ever thought about asking him about what was happening online and just didn’t understand that he was so plugged in that he couldn’t just ‘turn it off.’.

One day, I noticed he’d left one of his social media pages open. I was shocked by what I read. He was talking to people I didn’t know, but it was obvious my son was quite intimate with then. The messages started off quite innocent and friendly, but soon developed into something very graphic, with regular requests for very private images. He was showing one person what he called a ‘’dick pic.’’ They could have been anyone, of any age.

All of a sudden we were contacted by the Police, who’d been tracking this all online. They’d been watching it all.

We were horrified. We spoke to him and he eventually admitted that it was a 14-year-old boy from a nearby town. Our son had felt powerless to stop – torn between craving the ‘attention’ he was getting, and feeling confused. He just didn’t know how to change the conversation but honestly didn’t see a problem with sending sexualised pictures.

The Police said that he was in fact a 35 year old male who had been previously convicted for similar online grooming offences, and had even been convicted for rape of a young boy he’d groomed online.

Twelve months on, our son is still coming to terms what with happened and is receiving counselling. He is no longer our happy, outgoing young man with the world at this feet.

As his parents we constantly question what we could have done to prevent this from happening to him. We are ashamed we didn’t notice the signs sooner - we failed to protect him and we should have contacted the Police earlier.

All it would have taken is a few changes to privacy settings and a chat with him and he might have been safe. We just didn’t understand the dangers.

You can never be too cautious. The world is so much more accessible now, as well as it being much easier to keep things secret. Parents need to look out for changes in their child’s behaviour and do whatever they can to keep them safe.

If you’re not sure, if you feel something’s not right, speak to Barnardo’s, just in case


Do you know the signs of child sexual exploitation?

It’s everyone’s responsibility to protect children