Technology can facilitate sexual exploitation of children. Offenders use social media (e.g. Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp and Snapchat), to identify young people whom they can groom. When abusive images have been posted or shared online, there is little control over who can access them. This can lead to repeat victimisation. GPS technology can be used to pinpoint (within a few metres) where a photo was taken – revealing a victim’s location very easily.
A child can be sexually exploited through technology without even realising it. For example, a child or young person is persuaded to post or send images of themselves and these are then used as a bargaining tool by the offenders and threats of violence and intimidation are used as methods of coercion. Offenders may use technology to exploit children and young people in the following ways:
Research shows groomers do not always pose as children and a large percentage are honest about their age. It can take a very short time for some predators to arrange to meet their victim and this can involve the use of sophisticated, persuasive, language-based strategies to build trust rapidly.
Instagram is a picture and video sharing app. Users can post content and use hashtags to share experiences, thoughts or memories with an online community.
Minecraft is a game that lets you build and create a virtual world using building blocks.
YouTube allows you to watch, create and comment on videos. You can create your own YouTube account, playlists and channel with a public profile.
Visit NSPCC’s Net Aware Guide for more information on how to make your child’s social media secure, on these and lots of other apps, sites and games.
Perpetrators are increasingly targeting children and young people via online gaming sites, pretending to be someone who they are not. This can often lead to bullying, grooming and sexual exploitation. The Breck Foundation is a self-funding charity, raising awareness of playing safe whilst using the internet.
CEOP’s Thinkuknow has launched Band Runner, an interactive game for 8-10 year olds to help build their knowledge, confidence and skills to stay safe from risks they might encounter online. The game is hosted on the area for 8-10 year-olds on the Thinkuknow website.
Parents and carers are encouraged to change the settings of the apps and online games that their children use, as to restrict the ways in which they could potentially be targeted by perpetrators. Many apps are public facing automatically, and have to be manually set to 'private' for example.
Parental controls are software and tools which you can install on phones or tablets, games consoles or laptops – and even your home broadband. You can also use them to help you block or filter the content your child sees when searching online. And family-friendly public WiFi can help when you’re out and about.
Parental controls are also available to help you to:
Taking, making, sharing and possessing indecent images and pseudo-photographs (an image made by computer-graphics, which appears to be a photograph) of people under 18 is illegal. It doesn’t matter how old they look, looking at indecent images of under 18s is illegal.
The Home Office has published guidance to help young people understand the law on making and sharing indecent images of people under 18 years-old. There are also short films that demonstrate the serious harm that viewing indecent images of children can cause, including the Is She Legal? video.
Childline’s Zipit app, uses humour to help teenagers deal with unwanted requests for sexual images of themselves. The free app offers young people a gallery of images and animations which they can send in response to requests for sexual pictures and to deal with difficult sexting situations.
A bad romance: a live Snapchat story -spot the signs of an unhealthy relationship
Kayleigh’s Love Story – a film about aspects of the last 13 days of the life of 15-year-old Kayleigh Haywood. If shown in a cinema this would have a 15 certificate.
You can report online abuse through the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) website or the Internet Watch Foundation. Or report anonymously to Crimestoppers 0800 555111.
If you are concerned about a child in Essex, call Children & Families Hub (Social Care): 0345 603 7627 or 0345 606 1212 (out of hours).
If you are concerned about a child in Southend, call 01702 215007 or 0345 606 1212 (out of hours).
If you are concerned about a child in Thurrock, call 01375 652 802 or 01375 372 468 (out of hours).
If a child is in immediate danger, dial 999 and ask to speak to police.