Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2016

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Communication Studies

First Advisor

High, Andrew

First Committee Member

Afifi, Tamara D

Second Committee Member

Afifi, Walid A

Third Committee Member

McLaren, Rachel

Fourth Committee Member

Buch, Elana D


The occurrence of child sex abuse in the United States has long been considered a problem of paramount importance (e.g. Durkin, 2002; Howitt, 2008; Jenkins, 1998). Historically, the primary assumption was that the sexual solicitation of children occurred face-to-face. However, with the advent of communication technologies, people began to realize the internet's role in child solicitation. In an effort to combat this mode of child luring, a concerned citizen created P-J, an organization that seeks to identify and incriminate online predators (OPs). Members of this organization (PJMs) wait in online spaces for OPs to approach them. Then PJMs communicate as if they are minors to gather incriminating evidence against the OPs. PJMs and OPs have incompatible goals for their interactions. OPs' aim to foster a sexual relationship with a minor without being punished for it. PJMs' aim to gather enough evidence against OPs to convict them and prevent the future luring of children. To accomplish these goals, PJMs and OPs communicate with each other and face unique dilemmas in doing so.

The current dissertation employs Action-Implicative Discourse Analysis (AIDA; Tracy, 1995), a theory-method package that helps identify strategies used by interactants to address their institutionally based communicative dilemmas, to answer the research questions: 1) How do PJMs communicatively address their dilemma of encouraging online predators to pursue sexual contact without entrapping or making OPs suspicious, and 2) How do OPs communicatively address their dilemma of seducing their targets without getting caught or scaring off the presumed minor? By doing so, the project expands extant knowledge of grooming and computer-mediated self-presentation. It also extends the use of AIDA to contexts beyond organizations and formal institutions.

Through the sampling and constant comparison procedure of 40 PJM-OP instant messenger transcripts provided by the organization's website, the researcher identified four overarching categories of strategies that PJMs used to manage their dilemma: Target Presentation, OP Safety, Sexual/Relational Contribution Management, and Bust Facilitation. The researcher also identified five overarching categories of strategies for OPs: Identity Establishment, Relationship Management, Safety Precautions, Sexual Communication Engagement, and Meet Facilitation. Within these categories are many strategies PJMs and OPs utilized in an effort to address their dilemmas of attaining their goals while avoiding risks.

By identifying the aforementioned strategies, the researcher satisfied her primary goal of recognizing and understanding how PJMs and OPs attempt to reach their respective goals while avoiding risks. In addition to fulfilling this primary goal, the results of this project entail implications for several different lines of research. Specifically, the results of this dissertation extend research on traditional and online grooming, self-presentation online, and AIDA. The results also provide practical implications concerning what adolescents should be wary of when communicating with unknown others online. Additionally, the study has the capacity to help PJMs become more aware of OPs' strategies as well as their own. This awareness could help PJMs more efficiently train new PJMs and gain a deeper understanding of their interactions.

Public Abstract

One thing parents fear most about their children being on the internet is their encountering online predators. Online predators (OPs) have been perceived as a very real threat, so some people began combating this dangerous reality by pretending to be minors online in an effort to convict people who try to solicit minors online for sexual activity. One organization trains its members (PJMs) to do just that. Having once worked with a national television show noted for incriminating OPs, PJMs are no strangers to communicating with OPs for days, and sometimes months, to gather enough evidence against them to ensure their arrest.

In their communication with one another, both OPs and PJMs face dilemmas. On one hand, OPs are trying to lure a minor into a sexual relationship without scaring the minor away or getting caught. On the other hand, PJMs are trying to encourage OPs to pursue them sexually without making the OP suspicious or making it seem as if the OP was being forced or coaxed into illegal behavior (which would make all of the evidence that PJMs gather invalid in court). The current dissertation allowed the researcher to analyze transcripts of OP-PJM instant messenger interactions to identify which strategies they used while in communication with one another to approach their goals and avoid risks.

Through the analysis of these interactions, the researcher was able to advance our knowledge of face-to-face and online luring practices and the ways people portray themselves online through talk.


publicabstract, Action-Implicative Discourse Analysis, AIDA, CMC, Grooming, Interpersonal Communication, Online Predators


x, 207 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 192-203).


Copyright 2016 Lauren A. Buchanan

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Communication Commons