top of page
Kids Using Digital Tablet

DRAGON-S Introduces Cutting-Edge Tools to Combat Online Grooming

“Project Dragon-S is fully committed to keeping children safe from sexually motivated violence online. Our work is therefore fully aligned with the mission of Safe Online to make the internet safe for children. We conduct cutting edge academic research to help detect and prevent online grooming. We work very closely with a range of stakeholders, child safe-guarding practitioners, children, as well as lived experience experts.”

-Professor Nuria Lorenzo-Dus, Swansea University

DRAGON-S Introduces Cutting-Edge Tools to Combat Online Grooming: Safe Online Funded Research Leads the Charge

Online grooming is a key threat that children and young people face in the digital world. Groomers use language (and other means including images) to form an emotional relationship with a child or young person through the internet, often with the intention of exploiting them sexually or otherwise. Groomers often use insidious tactics, including both explicit and implicit sexual language to entrap children, making it critical to come up with effective solutions to disrupt harm.

In an initiative aimed at fortifying the virtual defences against online grooming, Swansea University leads with Project DRAGON-S (Developing Resistance Against Grooming Online – Spot and Shield).

“The project adopts a unique approach examining language and communication, which is rarely done in research and learning in this space, even when seeking to tackle issues that are communication based such as grooming - a practice of communicative manipulation,” says Professor Lorenzo-Dus.

Funded by Safe Online, this ambitious project is set to revolutionise the fight against online predators, deploying cutting-edge tools and methodologies developed over the course of 2021 and 2022.

DRAGON-Spotter: The Linguistics-AI Sentinel

At the heart of this initiative is DRAGON-Spotter, an Artificial Intelligence (AI)-powered tool meticulously designed for law enforcement agencies. Integrating linguistics and artificial intelligence, DRAGON-Spotter empowers authorities to identify online grooming content in real-time.

The tool helps in classifying and prioritisation for investigators and forensics; scanning through chat conversations to score the likelihood of online grooming taking place. It also identifies words and contexts related to different groomer tactics.

Overall, it helps law enforcement to increase detection speed and efficiency by pinpointing communicatively evidenced groomer goals - such as developing children’s trust or effectively isolating them. This tool comes at a crucial time when the digital landscape continues to evolve, presenting new challenges in the protection of vulnerable individuals, particularly children.

DRAGON-Shield: Strengthening the Front Lines


Complementing DRAGON-Spotter is DRAGON-Shield, an interactive and multimedia training portal aimed at arming child protection practitioners with specialised knowledge. This portal, structured into eight modules, offers insights into the communicative tactics employed by online groomers. By enhancing awareness and recognition of such tactics, practitioners are better equipped to shield children from falling victim to online grooming.

The real-time conversation simulator within DRAGON-Shield, presented from a child's perspective, offers a unique training experience. Tested through focus groups hosted by Youth Cymru in 2022-2023, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. One participant, drawing from personal experience, remarks: "...if I had seen this video before, it would have made me realise what the person [groomer] was doing, and I would not have met up with him."


Piloting Success: DRAGON-Shield's Impact

March 2023 marked the launch of the DRAGON-Shield pilot, inviting child safeguarding practitioners from four international sites to undergo training and provide crucial feedback. The results were impressive, with 100% of participants attesting to increased knowledge of grooming tactics and a unanimous recommendation for the training to their peers.

In-depth analysis following the pilot revealed tangible instances where practitioners applied their newfound knowledge in real-life cases. A participant reflected: "...the training made me look at [a case] in a different way. So, as experienced as I think I's more detailed things like that...eye-opening and thought-provoking."

Dragon- Shield is poised for expansion with plans to roll-out in new languages and develop new resources for parents and caregivers.

Global Collaboration: DRAGON-Spotter's Reach

DRAGON-S has transcended geographical boundaries, collaborating with key partners such as Red PaPaz, Protect Children Finland, InHope, WeProtect Global Alliance, ZanaAfrica Programs, DeafKidz International, Youth Cymru, Marie Collins Foundation, and Netsafe New Zealand. The engagement of four international police forces has been pivotal in refining the DRAGON-Spotter tool, ensuring its effectiveness in diverse contexts.

DRAGON-S Continues to Soar

The Dragon tools are poised for a global rollout, with launches in 2023 and in 2024. The 2023 results shed light on the project's impact and effectiveness.

The DRAGON-S project has marked significant targets and is set to make an impact through its various initiatives. A key achievement includes the DRAGON-Shield Evaluation, which focuses on assessing how well the portal aids practitioners in protecting vulnerable individuals. Another major stride is the DRAGON-Spotter Evaluation, aimed at evaluating the effectiveness of the DRAGON-Spotter as a detection software for law enforcement agencies and understanding the tool's capability in identifying potential threats or harmful situations. Additionally, the project has made important progress in designing a Continuous Learning Interface, a feature that will enhance the DRAGON-Spotter tool by enabling localised machine learning model training. This interface will significantly improve the tool's adaptability and effectiveness in different contexts.

Moving forward, the project is also starting to look at children’s communicative behavior in problematic contexts focusing on peer-on-peer sexual harassment online.

Championing DRAGON-S: Support Behind the Project

The project receives its financial backing from Safe Online and the Tech Coalition Safe Online Research Fund, an innovative partnership that propels actionable research and forges a strong collaboration between the technology sector and academic institutions. While this alliance is dedicated to eradicating online child sexual exploitation and abuse, Safe Online emphasises the importance of investing in multifaceted research addressing the intricate challenges associated with digital platforms.

By providing funding, Safe Online aims to enhance the practical application of independent research, thereby bolstering the development of real-world solutions that effectively address these issues. Thanks to the Tech Coalition Safe Online Research Fund, Swansea University's work can be elevated further for the safety of our children online as they continue to lead the charge in the battle against online grooming, demonstrating the global impact of collaborative research and cutting-edge technology in protecting some of the most vulnerable members of our society.

bottom of page