The NSPCC is urging parents to talk to their children about online safety if they have bought them internet devices as Christmas presents, following a huge rise in contacts to Childline about online sexual abuse.
In 2015/16 there were 3,716 Childline counselling sessions about online sexual abuse, a 24% increase from 2014/15 (2,994 contacts on the issue). This issue has also increased by 250% (1,061 sessions) over the past three years.
Online sexual abuse can take the form of grooming, child sexual exploitation, sexting, being made to perform sex acts on webcam, meet up in person, and viewing distressing sexually explicit content. Online sexual abuse was such a big problem for children last year that it took up a third of all contacts about online issues, including bullying and safety.
In 2015/16 the NSPCC’s service received 1,480 contacts about online child sexual exploitation; an increase of 18 per cent from 2014/15 (up from 1,252).
Some children contacted Childline because they felt trapped by their situation as they felt guilty and ashamed, were frightened to talk to an adult about the issue, were being blackmailed or were considering meeting up in person. Some wrongly feel that they are to blame because they have participated in their abuser’s actions, and are afraid to speak out.
A 14-year-old girl told Childlike, “I met this guy through social media and he was really nice; he told me I was beautiful and I felt that I could talk to him about everything. He asked me for some topless photos which I didn’t think was a big deal, so I sent him a few. But now he’s turned really nasty and is threatening to post them online if I don’t send him more. I’m really worried and embarrassed and I don’t know what to do.”
The NSPCC recommends parents talk regularly and openly with their children and has a host of simple tips and advice on its website. Tips include:
· Exploring sites and apps together
· Ask about things they might see online which make them feel uncomfortable
· Talk about being Share Aware and what is, and is not, ok to share online
· Reassure them that you won’t overreact – you’re just looking out for them
Childline can be on 0800 1111 or at www.childline.org.uk