Another headline about child sexual abuse and live streaming
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It is a shame that the first week our children are back to school, we have another headline about child sexual abuse and live streaming. The numbers referred to in the National Crime Agency news report 1 are sobering – over 80,000 individual industry referrals for child sex abuse images in 2017 – a 700% increase since 2012. Areas identified in the report as having the greater risk of contact abuse include grooming and live-streaming.
I don’t think most of us realise that we use live streaming nearly every day. Most social media apps offer it as a service. My favourite is Facetime and I use Skype for work every day. It is also, unfortunately, being used by paedophiles to groom children and live-stream child abuse. Apparently, offenders are using the dark web to groom children on the mainstream internet.
I know I have said this before, but it isn’t just parents’ and schools’ responsibility; it is the social networks’ responsibility too, and I totally agree with Sajid Javid MP’s demand for the tech companies to do more to combat online child sex abuse. According to the NCA report, “the technology exists for industry to design-out these offences, to stop these images being shared. Whilst some online platforms have taken important steps to improve safety, we [NCA] are asking them to take it to the next step; to innovate, to use their brightest minds, and to invest in preventing these online offences from happening in the first place.”
What will it take to spur these technology companies to action? How many young lives must be ruined before things change? There are already 400 people arrested in the UK every month for these types of offences. The more I think about it, the angrier I become. I believe these companies should be fined millions for allowing this type of content to remain on their sites. Money seems to be the language they best understand. I know there is the dark web, but so much of this is happening via the live streaming apps like music.ly. Do we look to them to change their apps? Maybe there needs to be stronger age verification? On all the gambling sites you must put in ID and it must be verified. My son is a bit of an entrepreneur and desperate to have a Trading Account, but he can’t as he isn’t 18. Why do we not have these types of rules for Apps that put children at huge risk. The mental scarring of such an ordeal is unimaginable.
It is probably no coincidence that the number of offences is increasing while the hours our children are spending online is also growing. Education has got to be key. Children are unknowingly putting themselves at risk by downloading and accessing free chat rooms, apps and websites that support random messaging, voice and live streaming. This type of social networking promotes random contact with people online which can be exploited by paedophiles. Children must be taught not to share personal details, particularly anything that might identify them or their location.
When a child is being groomed online, it takes some time, it doesn’t happen overnight. We need to educate children on how to recognise this. We happily talk about Strange Danger, yet sometimes ignore the online world where children are often more unsupervised than they are outside the home. These predators behave like our children’s best friends. They make them feel good, feel part of something, promise them treats and then cleverly manipulate them to make them feel guilty and obliged to do what they demand. We must explain this to children and help them to identify the signs, to use their intuition if someone seems a bit “too nice”. They must be empowered to say “No” and know that it is not their fault and that we, as parents, will not blame them if they make a mistake.
We also need to discuss, in an age appropriate way, sexual acts via streaming. I know it’s tough enough talking about the birds and the bees, but the way children behave during live streaming is likely to be quite spontaneous and unless we warn children about this risk, how can we expect them to make the right decisions on the spur of the moment.
Above all, make sure you are alert to your child’s need to discuss any problems. Perhaps just ask them, at a quiet moment when no-one else is around, if they are happy and whether anything is worrying them – give them that chance to unburden themselves and you might save them from something much worse.