This looks like a really important programme to watch – it’s on in a couple of minutes on BBC3 – I met one of the people who worked on this docudrama last week.
Even within this short video, it’s clear that Breck Bednar’s mother is not advocating for children to not be online, but that they be well educated by a peer/advocacy programme, so that people know the signs to look out for.
My brief contribution to the debate from Raising Children in a Digital Age (2014), pp149-151:
Witnessing cruelty to animals online affects a much larger number of children than paedophilia and grooming, but the spectre of abduction is the most terrifying prospect that exists for parents. In the Sexual Offences Act of 2003 the law relating to grooming (which existed long before the internet, but, as with other online issues, has increased in speed and scope) was changed to become pre-emptive (not waiting for abuse to be confirmed) rather than reactive, to increase the chances of preventing child sexual abuse. The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) in the UK noted that the number reporting abuse was around 1,000 per month in early 2012. At least a quarter of these were suspected grooming cases, rather than cases where there was actual evidence. There was also some suspicion that a number of people were testing out the button. Statistically, road safety is still a bigger problem, but awareness of grooming has grown.
Online sexual grooming occurs when someone makes contact with a child with the motive of preparing them for sexual abuse, either online or offline. So what are you looking out for? When reading the list below, remember that none of these in isolation means that grooming is actually taking place. As we pointed out in “Friendships”, many of these will come from children genuinely seeking friendship
- gathering personal details, such as age, name, address, mobile number, name of school, and photographs
- offering opportunities for modelling, particularly to young girls
- promising meetings with pop idols or celebrities, or offers of merchandise
- offering cheap tickets to sporting or music events
- offering material gifts, including electronic games, music or software
- offering virtual gifts, such as rewards, passwords, and gaming cheats
- suggesting quick and easy ways to make money
- paying young people to appear naked and perform sexual acts via webcams
- gaining a child’s confidence by offering positive attention
- encouraging the child to share or talk about any difficulties or problems at home
- providing a sympathetic and supportive response
- bullying and intimidating behaviour, such as threatening to expose the child by contacting their parents to inform them of their child’s communications or postings on a social networking site
- saying they know where the child lives or goes to school
- using webcams to spy and take photographs and movies of victims
- asking sexually themed questions, such as “Do you have a boyfriend?” or “Are you a virgin?”
- asking children and young people to meet offline
- sending sexually themed images to a child, depicting adult content or the abuse of other children
- masquerading as a minor or assuming a false identity to deceive a child, using school or hobby sites to gather information about a child’s interests, likes, and dislikes.
If you’re wondering what the social networks do to protect your children, sites such as Club Penguin have over 200 moderators, while Facebook actively blocks convicted sex offenders from the site, although of course there’s no way they can promise 100 per cent success in this. In July 2013 a number of “internet giants” including Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Twitter, and at least three other major companies completed nine months of discussions on plans to wipe out child abuse images from major platforms, which had previously not been possible.
Determined to make my contribution to a safer and more pleasant internet – but we need to remember that the internet is a part of our everyday lives now, and life is not-risk free. We need to be better educated and informed, and recognise the differences we can make.
Check out Raising Children in a Digital Age – I’ve been told by a lot of parents that it’s really helped them open up better conversations with their kids!
Digiexplorer (not guru), Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing @ Manchester Metropolitan University. Interested in digital literacy and digital culture in the third sector (especially faith). Author of ‘Raising Children in a Digital Age’, regularly checks hashtag #DigitalParenting.