Introduction: Since its diffusion in the 1990s, the Internet has developed into a fully integrated component of the lives of teenagers across the globe. As use of the Internet by underage youth has evolved and increased over the past decades, concerns about how technology may contribute to minors becoming victims of online sex crimes, including online grooming, have heightened. The present literature review contributes to the existing knowledge base regarding the epidemiology of the online grooming process, exploring key themes and issues arising in this area.
Evidence acquisition: We conducted a review of the current literature by an initial database research of papers published since 1990. Three independent reviewers selected relevant articles, initially based on title and abstract analysis, then by full text in order to make a final determination. After the final selection, a total of 37 articles were reviewed.
Evidence synthesis: The articles reviewed report highly heterogenous results with regards to epidemiological data, estimating a prevalence of the online grooming phenomenon between 9% and 19%. Factors influencing minors' risk of online grooming included increasing age, gender, sexual minority orientation, diagnosis of mental disease, conflictual relationships with parents and risk-taking behaviors (e.g. chat room and social networking site use).
Conclusions: Although the true prevalence of online grooming is not available, it is a significant issue among minors. Thus, it is important to educate youth on responsible internet use, starting at the earliest age and continuing during adolescence.