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What does the term “grooming” mean?

The term ‘grooming’ is one that has been coined recently to reflect the problem of those who use online facilities in order to meet children for the purpose of committing a sex offence, however any communication, in person, face to face or otherwise with a child for the purpose of committing a sex offence is still legally and commonly considered to be grooming.

It is necessary to outline this specific problem in relation to advancing technology, however, as it is understood that the innovation of the world wide web has dramatically changed the way potential paedophiles make contact with children: With user anonymity providing potential sex offenders with a covert platform from where to search and groom their victims, and personal information of potential victims often being easily accessible, online service providers have been seen to take drastic actions to prevent such activity.

Sexual Offences Act 2003

Under the Sexual offences act 2003, children are protected from on and offline ‘grooming’ (communication with a child with an intention to meet and commit a sex offence). This means that communication with a child under the age of 16 with the intention to meet for a sexual purpose is illegal. Furthermore, meeting a child following the grooming process is also outlined as a criminal offence.

In the interests of common decency, as well as covering other mediums used to contact children, the act also governs that exposing children to indecent text messages is illegal.

The Sexual Offences Act also makes it clear that no child under 13 years of age can ever consent to sexual activity. This means that sex with a child under 13 years automatically is classified as rape and carries with it a maximum life sentence.

Sentencing those who groom children for sex

A maximum tariff of a 10 year custodial sentence was passed with the Sexual Offences Act 2003. This is increased from the previously upheld maximum of 7 years for such an offence (this is before the offence of ‘grooming’ had been outlined) in a bid to deter potential internet groomers.

The problem had led to the high profile closing of chat rooms by Microsoft (following the prevalence of chat room abusers using online forums for immoral reasons such as to contact minors with sexual intent), who declared that the protection of children was their reason behind the move.

The Sex Offender Register

When individuals are convicted of sex offences, the police need to be made aware of their name and address upon leaving prison, the length of the original sentence will determine how long the ex convict will appear on the register, this will not be an indefinite amount of time

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