How do you value your parents' sacrifices?

"Parents have to familiarize themselves with the digital space independently"

Interview with the criminologist Thomas-Gabriel Rüdiger

Cybergrooming is not a new or not publicly discussed topic. The television film is linked to the hope of the makers of reaching a broader public and thus as many parents as possible. How do you rate the level of information in the population?

Cybergrooming - i.e. the online-based initiation of sexual abuse of a child, punishable under Section 176 (4) No. 3 StGB - is not a singular phenomenon. Rather, it is part of a wide variety of criminological phenomena from cyberbullying to cyberstalking to hate speech in the digital space. In the past, there was indeed a wide variety of priorities in public perception. For example, cyberbullying and, more recently, hatspeech have been relatively present in the media. It is noticeable that parents - more precisely adults - often have very separate knowledge. If z. B. Cyberbullying is current, deal with it. But it should work more like on the road. Adults actually know all the risks here - from sexual offenders to traffic accidents to the consequences of disregarding traffic rules - and can therefore prepare their children for them.

Is cybergrooming a crime that keeps the police busy? And what about the number of cases, can statements be made, are there reliable statistics?

Cybergrooming is one of the abuse offenses that traditionally have a high unreported field. This means that unfortunately only a few offenses are reported - i.e. in the bright field - and most offenses remain in the dark. Cybergrooming is also a control offense. Many reports are not made by the victims, but only by chance - for example, parents find a problematic chat history on the child's smartphone or PC - or when the police actively convict the perpetrators. Taking these framework conditions into account, it can nevertheless be said that the number of advertisements has risen continuously over the past five years. They are now around 2000 advertisements per year. Dark field studies on cybergrooming show a sometimes massive fluctuation in the results. This is inter alia. This is based on the fact that the professions involved in cybergrooming sometimes define and interpret very differently. The sexual harassment of children in the digital space - which legally also includes cybergrooming - is, according to almost all surveys, an absolute mass crime to which both boys and girls are exposed.

In my experience, I assume that almost every child who grows up in digital space is confronted with a cybergroomer at least once. However, that does not mean that the children absolutely have to realize who they are talking to or what kind of intention they really have.

The teacher played by Devid Striesow in "The White Rabbit" is an ambivalent character - on the one hand enlightening and on the other hand fighting with his own pedophile tendencies. That can lead to a perfidious situation. The abuser, on the other hand, is a young person, not an adult in disguise. Do such constellations also occur in reality?

The perpetrators actually come from all walks of life and all ages. It is absolutely realistic that there is both a child and an adult perpetrator in the film. Often the thought of the older man prevails a little, who sits conspiratorially in his little room and hunts children - in the English-speaking world the perpetrators are also appropriately called Online Predators. These perpetrators do exist, without question. Police crime statistics have shown a completely different trend for about five years. In the meantime, every third criminal complaint in the cybergrooming area is directed against a child (approx. 10 percent) or a young person (approx. 25 percent). This presents us with completely new challenges both in prevention and in the area of ​​youth media protection.

Is there some kind of general approach that perpetrators go about in order to abuse their victims like Sara?

That is difficult to answer because the modes operandi - i.e. the procedures - of the perpetrators can be absolutely different. In the different sciences there is also a certain dispute about what is actually recorded under cybergrooming. The social sciences, for example, always demand the establishment of a relationship of trust between the perpetrator and the victim - who then does not have to be a child per se. B. can also be a teenager. The forensic scientists and lawyers, on the other hand, record every form of influence with sexual motivation, but only in one child. I follow the last definition. Then the procedures are manifold. I divide the perpetrators into those who are actually trying to gain trust. These perpetrators take a long-term and strategic approach, but due to the necessary use of resources, they can only victimize relatively few victims. The other type of offender wants the fastest possible sexual interaction with a child in order to then blackmail them. Such offenders are primarily concerned with obtaining relevant image and video material from the child, or even z. B. perform sexual acts in front of a child via the webcam. These perpetrators mostly only act in the digital world, so the perpetrators can have a corresponding number of victims.

Sara in the film makes contact with strangers via chat to a quiz game. Does gaming play a special role in the initiation of sexual contact with minors?

One of the most successful forms of social media are actually online games - games that at least allow online-based communication or interaction with other users. Children usually begin to explore digital space with online games. In doing so, they can meet and interact with all types of adults and adolescents of all ages in a largely uncontrolled manner. A circumstance that would certainly lead to a discussion in physical reality, if z. B. Eight-year-old children play together with unknown adults in a playground. There are other reasons that sex offenders also use this situation. Most of the games that children play have a certain downsizing tendency due to the mostly child-friendly graphics or the game concept, which is sometimes supported by very low age recommendations. At the same time, playful interaction also has a certain trust-building element; it can be easy for a perpetrator to make contact with a child through a shared gaming experience. Parents, who may be prudish to a pure chat portal, may not be so aware of the risk when playing games. The risk does not only consist of sexual offenders. In games, children are confronted with extremists of all stripes, with cyberbullying, but also with a multitude of other crimes in their youngest years. A basic problem here is also the current protection of minors in the media, which - to put it simply - is only intended to prevent the negative influence of the media on children, but not that a child encounters a sex offender or extremist in a program for children. In my opinion, this is one of the symptoms of a society that has not given any head over the interaction of age groups on the Internet.

The anonymity of the network is of course very seductive for the perpetrators when it comes to establishing contacts. Especially since parents and security authorities such as the police are not very visible on the Internet. What can be done to make it more visible that actions are also being prosecuted?

The question here is whether the network is a legal vacuum. A legal space is usually defined as a structure in which law applies theoretically. For me, however, there must be a certain probability in a legal area that a breach of the law will also be punished. Abraham Lincoln is said to have said "Laws without enforcement are just good advice". So if this probability is rather low, the perpetrators are very open and aggressive. Hessian public prosecutors recently pretended to be twelve-year-old girls for ten days and recorded 338 sexual initiations. Would such numbers be so high in a comparable experiment in physical space? I dare to doubt it, since our traditional protective mechanisms take effect there. Perpetrators would have B. In a playground fear of adults present or passing by, of police patrols passing randomly or deliberately, and at the same time children can react more adequately to the threats, simply because they recognize that they are dealing with an adult.

So on the Internet it is not enough to just say that we need more security authorities or that only the parents have to take care of them. Rather, we need a social development that compares the digital space with road safety and discusses corresponding analogue prevention measures. This means that we need experienced and informed adults who teach their children do's and don'ts in the digital space, institutions such as schools and kindergartens that address correct behavior online, a legal framework - comparable to the StVO / StVG - that regulates our interaction and then security guards who have a certain probability of enforcing these rules. It is the task of politics to initiate this discussion. The security authorities must receive new legal framework conditions in order to be able to create this presence in the digital space. According to the principle of legality, officials must pursue any criminal offense on the Internet, otherwise they will make themselves liable to prosecution. In fact, security authorities are not allowed to differentiate between an insult, a copyright infringement and a sexual abuse. From my point of view, there are therefore only two options: Either the security authorities are given massive staff, budgets and equipment to occupy the digital space, or they are relieved of previous tasks and they are given priorities, such as B. the fight against cybergrooming, given.

The worst variant from my point of view would be to say that the police should not be active on the Internet. Because that does not take into account the fact that institutions and groups are forming that believe that they can enforce the law in the digital world. There are already a large number of such vigilante justice cases around the world in the cybergrooming sector.

What advice do you have, how can you instill healthy distrust in children and young people without taking away the fun of communicating on the Internet?

So at first I don't think much of prohibitions. But do not believe in technical protection mechanisms and, as already mentioned, in the age recommendations. Because these mechanisms can be bypassed far too easily. I also often hear the statement "Parents should let their children show them their digital media" - e. B. the games - I also think that's a wrong assessment. If children have the authority to interpret and inform something, they will probably never point out negative aspects to ignorant parents, but rather the positive ones. I think everyone knows something like that from their own youth. There is no getting around it: Parents have to familiarize themselves with the digital space independently in order to understand the mechanisms and risks. If a child wants to play a new game on their smartphone, the parents should first install it and play intensively. Then they can see if the game has a chat mode, money can be invested and what other risks are involved. With these experiences, risks such as cybergrooming can then be discussed with the child on approximately the same level. Ultimately also like in road traffic. When do we let our children be alone in traffic? When we think that we have conveyed the rules, but also the dangers, to them in such a way that they can move around safely. This must also be used as a benchmark for digital space.

At the very end, however, a little hint. In principle, any form of sexual interaction with a child - even in digital form - creates a suspicion of criminal liability, which can also be reported. This should also be used, as the victims only relatively rarely report the offenses.