Image: Asim18 CC BY-SA 3.0
There have been some much publicised stories in the media about children being targeted online and persuaded to perform sexual acts or share sexual images on webcams.
Here, CEOP's Jonathan Baggaley explains how the abusers operate and what parents can do to protect their children
Though the ways they do it vary, the basic tactic used by offenders is to trick or persuade a young person to share a sexual image, strip or perform sexual acts on webcam.
They might do this by grooming the child, building a relationship with them in which the child feels love or a sense of obligation to the offender. They might pretend to be the same age as the child, flirting with them and asking them to engage in sexual acts. In some cases they will use information which the young person has shared, for example personal problems or family difficulties, as leverage to get the young person to go on webcam or share a sexual image.
Once they have an image or video they will then use it to blackmail them, telling the child that if they don’t do what they say they will share the image or video online.
Children then feel trapped, forced to do whatever the offender wants or face the embarrassment of family or friends seeing them naked or engaging in sexual acts.
This can start a cycle of abuse with offenders making increasing demands for the children to appear on webcam and perform sexual acts. In some cases they have been forced to physically hurt themselves or involve other children.
The children in these cases often feel that there is no way out and that they can’t tell anyone. Let your children know that whatever has happened there is always help out there. It’s never their fault, the offender has committed a serious sexual crime and the images are evidence of their crime.
Even though the children involved may never meet the offender face to face, this is sexual abuse.
Children forced, tricked or persuaded to participate in the abuse, for example by performing sexual acts on themselves, may be left with long term trauma from the experience and can suffer just as much harm as those who are abused by an offender in the ‘real’ world.
The existence of images can make it hard to feel that the abuse has come to an end and young people may struggle, feeling that they were to blame, even though their actions were directed by the offender. Young people also describe finding it hard to know who to trust after such deception and betrayal online.
It can be traumatic for parents to discover that their children were having sexual conversations and were tricked into sharing sexual images or videos in the first place. Many parents feel a range of emotions, from confusion to horror and grief. They may also feel angry with their child.
Whilst this is understandable it's important to let your child know that they are not at fault, and to work through your feelings with others so they don't get in the way of the support that your child needs from you.
When online abuse happens it is never a young person’s fault. As children reach adolescence and develop sexually, their interest in sex and relationships increases.
Most young people are comfortable communicating and sharing online so it is understandable that they may use the internet to explore sex and relationships. This may be natural but there are some very real risks.
Shame and fear of being blamed, however, can be a major barrier to children seeking help so it’s important to help them recognise that responsibility lies entirely with the offender.
If your child tells you they've been blackmailed, don't blame them, and tell them you don't blame them. Even if they've engaged in risky behaviour – risk-taking is a normal part of adolescent development.
Offenders will lie to young people to maintain control over them. Make sure your children know the truth. Here are some of the lies they tell, and the truths behind them.
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