Any child that has access to an internet-connected device can be vulnerable to online child sexual abuse particularly if they are left unsupervised. The internet has enabled perpetrators to operate at a large scale and pace and made it easier for perpetrators to make contact with children and youth.
Know the four categories of risks
It is important to be aware of the fact that risks are generally grouped into four categories (the 4Cs):
Understand the emerging risks for children and youth
Cyberbullying is abusive, targeted, deliberate and repeated behavior intended to harm another person through technology. Sometimes sexual images and videos are created and distributed as a form of bullying, or email accounts and social media profiles are stolen to humiliate and hurt someone. Threats, harassment, humiliation can happen via text messages, emails, chat rooms, online forums, on social media websites.
Online gaming is a common pastime which provides an opportunity for connection, particularly with people who share a common interest. Unfortunately, many people experience online harassment while playing games that can also cross into real life with augmented reality.
Gamers often have a choice about what personal or contact information to share through an online profile or chat conversations with other players. When moving into virtual or augmented reality, privacy and safety concerns increase: for instance, augmented reality games may allow geolocation of a player in order to let other gamers interact with them at a shared location.
Players have reported experiencing harassment, stalking and threats of death and sexual violence, for example. These experiences are very traumatizing. In some cases, and if enough identifying information is available, the abuse could move from online to offline dimension, to in person abuse.
Online grooming is when an unknown person (often an adult) impersonates someone else, for example an adult posing as a teenager, to try to gain the confidence of children or young people, encouranging them to share certain information and then abuse his/her position of power in one way or another. The enticement of children or teenagers entails a process of preparing them for future sexual contact through a gradual building of trust which may take time, but can also happen very abruptly.
Communication happens through technology, like texting or chatting through an app/game/website, to make it easier to commit a specific sexual offence against them. It can be the first step towards sex trafficking.
Online sexual coercion and extortion of children, also called ’sextortion’ is, simply, put, extortion using sex. It occurs when someone online threatens to send a sexual image or video of you to other people if you don’t pay the person (financial aim) or provide sexual services or more sexual content (sexual aim). The use of live-streaming services has increased the vulnerability particularly of youth to this type of exploitation because they can be recorded without their knowledge and then blackmailed.
What can you do as a parent, carer or educator?
It’s very important to have age-appropriate conversations with children and teens about the risks associated with using technology, as children’s understanding of digital privacy and security may differ based on their age. For instance, younger children (5-7 years old) may have a certain sense of privacy, but find it difficult to understand the consequences of their actions.
Teens will often comply with online threats in an effort to manage the situation in the short term and on their own since it is often very difficult for them to seek adult assistance if they’re embarrassed and/or scared. The desire to meet the individual in person could place the teen in a dangerous situation.
While a zero-risk online environment does not exist at the moment, educators and parents can make sure that their children become safe and responsible users on social networking websites, by teaching them about internet safety, being aware of their online habits and directing them to appropriate websites.
Learn about social media and Internet
Stay informed of the latest Internet websites and social media that children make use of. Seek information about parental controls and access limitations that some social media platforms enable. For example, you can easily find guides for WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook, Messenger, or TikTok.
Get involved. Spend time online with your child, whether at home, at school, at a computer centre in your community.
Place your child’s computer into a family room or a frequented room, this may limit the visiting of potentially dangerous chat rooms and social networking websites, as most teens prefer to view these sites in private. You may also want to limit your child’s use of the computer to certain times, such as when you are home or in the room.
Create a safe space and engage your children
Be a positive role model
If your child sees you making hurtful comments on a social networking site or not practising safety tips, they will be less inclined to listen to your guidance about how they should use the internet. Model good behaviour so that they know what such behaviour looks like.
Adults should be particularly vigilant when children use online gaming platforms and increase their personal safety and privacy online by following some tips:
Remind your children to trust their instincts. If they start to feel uncomfortable and if it is no longer fun, it’s always ok to cut a gaming session and to cease contact.