Every 30 seconds second a child makes their first click online. Although the internet offers great opportunities to learn and connect with others, it also has a dark side, where children are vulnerable. It is estimated that at any one time approximately 750,000 individuals are looking to connect with children online for sexual purposes, including grooming for sex (End Violence Against Children). Online groomers use language to form a relationship with the children they prey on, to gain and then betray children’s trust, exploiting children’s wonderful sociability, kind-heartedness, and curiosity.
During 2021-22, our research and development team developed state-of-the-art, ethically-responsible tools to help detect (DRAGON-Spotter) and prevent (DRAGON-Shield) online grooming.
In 2023, we are piloting and evaluating these tools. We are also embarking on related but new projects: DRAGON+ (Developing Resistance Against Grooming Online – Stories Strengthened Safeguards) and C2CHAT.
Our work at Project DRAGON-S is underpinned by a strong co-creation ethos and work collaboratively with over 400 individuals (child safeguarding practitioners, children, live experience experts, researchers) and 25 organisations across Wales, the UK, Europe, Oceania and the Americas. Most of our research is applied to English language environments, whilst also paving the way for extension to other languages. For an example, we collaborate on research to develop online grooming detection in Spanish Project StopOnSexGroom (headquartered at the Universitat Politécnica de València), and DRAGON+ entails multi-lingual/multi-cultural research and development.
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