‘The one we least expected’: a real life example of online grooming, as told by the detective who caught the predator

In an excerpt from former cybercrimes detective Brett Lee’s new book; Screen Resolution, we learn what it’s like to be groomed by an online predator.

‘Ernie was more aggressive than any predator I had encountered previously. The investigation started out just like any other. In the course of our normal online activities, we were contacted by a criminal.

'Before long, we observed that he was overly forceful in his approach. As my partner and I worked together to gather the evidence, we began forming a picture in our minds of how this guy would present in person. Thinking he was talking to a thirteen year old girl, Emilie, he promised my alter-ego gifts and indicated he thought I was the prettiest girl on the internet. He seemed extremely confident. He was very forthright and tried to exercise control over me, his demeanour stopping just short of being threatening. As I continued to talk with him online, he tried to desensitise Emilie by forwarding indecent materials to her. "All young people are doing this," Ernie said. "It is fantastic! It is great!" It reached the stage where I could predict Ernie’s next comment or question and sometimes I had my answer already typed out, ready to go. It became evident the control he felt he was having over Emilie, the images he was exposing her to and the indecent conversation he was forcing on her, was sexually exciting him.  

'His aggressive approach involved making it clear from the outset that he would like to meet Emilie in person. He sounded very experienced and showed no qualms about engaging in these perverted activities. He carried the conversation confidently in a way he felt a young person could identify with and would accept his advances. As we communicated, Ernie showed that despite being blunt, he was more cautious than most. He wanted to speak to Emilie in person through a phone call, so we arranged for a police officer with a younger-sounding voice to talk with him. It was a short call but enough to satisfy him that he was talking to a teenage girl. Why didn’t the predator pick the difference in an adult voice? I believe he created an image of the online child in his mind, lowering his natural inclination to question the voice tone. Behind the scenes, my colleagues and I made the usual searches. We discovered Ernie’s true identity and where he lived.

'During background searches, we learnt he had already groomed a teenage girl online before luring her in the physical world to a motel room where he paid her to undress and walk around naked. He did nothing to her physically, but photographed and videoed her and gave her a gift as payment. Later he approached the girl again about engaging in similar activities. She considered it but felt very uncomfortable and finally said no. He would not accept this. "I have got those photos and video of you from the first time," Ernie threatened. "If you do not meet me and do this again and more, I am going to make sure that your parents, friends and school see those images. You will be humiliated, and you will get into a lot of trouble." All decent parents would be angered deeply at this disgusting predator’s approach. We can only think of the hopelessness and despair he had instilled in the girl. Despite being cornered by his evil actions, the girl had enough resolve not to give in to his blackmail attempts. She told her parents. A complaint was made to the police, but it was later withdrawn because the girl did not want to go through the trauma of a court case.

'However, Ernie’s actions were still listed in the police files and we were fully aware of his disturbing past when he eventually made the approach to meet Emilie in person. He indicated that he wanted to meet in real life and take naked photographs of her for money…’

Brett’s advice for parents

1. Monitor what online games and social media platforms your kids are using, check who they’re talking to. It’s your right as a parent to know.

2. Don’t underestimate the depravity of online predators, they’re calculated and very strategic in how they groom children.

3. Stranger danger applies in the physical world and the online world, do not forget this. You must reinforce this message constantly.

4. Install parental controls on their devices. This is so important.

Managing cyber safety may seem daunting, but Family Zone and Brett are here to help. You can select Brett from Internet Safe Education as your Cyber Expert and he’ll provide tailored control settings for your family and ongoing advice for you on managing cyber safety and protecting your family from online risks.

To learn the outcome of Brett’s investigation you can purchase Screen Resolution from Amazon or click here.

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Topics: Parental Controls, Mobile Apps, Cyber Safety, grooming, online predators

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