Parents have many reasons to be concerned. It’s easy to stick your head in the sand and assume that bad things – like sexual abuse – won’t happen to our children.
But online sexual abuse is increasing at an exponential rate.
the exploitation of children in Australia is more and more prolific… this type of crime is becoming more and more violent and brazen.
The risks are particularly high at the moment, as we spend more time on devices during the pandemic lockdown.
For example, recent media reports have warned against Hijacked Zoom calls by offenders showing child abuse material.
This article, based on our work as parenting and child abuse experts, examines how parents can protect their children from online sexual abuse.
In a separate room, we also look at how to protect children from in-person sexual abuse.
How common is online sexual abuse?
Online sexual abuse occurs on many platforms including social media, text messaging, websites, various apps, such as WhatsApp and Snapchat and the dark web.
Very generally, this includes asking a child to send sexual content, someone sending sexual content to your child, “sextortion” (coercing or manipulating children for sexual purposes). ), and view, create or share child exploitation / abuse material (sometimes wrongly qualified as “child pornography”).
A 2018 survey out of over 2,000 children in the UK, one in seven has been asked to send sexual information. And one in 25 children in elementary school (roughly one in each class) had been sent or shown a nude or semi-nude photo or video by an adult.
Who are the aggressors?
Online abusers are more likely to be Caucasian males who are attracted to prepubescent children.
They differ from perpetrators in person in that they are less likely to have easy physical access to children, have greater Internet use, higher levels of education, and are less likely to have a criminal history. However, some people abuse children both online and in person.
Importantly, some online sexual abuse is also committed by other teens under 18, create and share sexual images.
Research estimates 16% of Australian children between 10 and 19 receive “sext” – sexually explicit or sexually suggestive texts or images over the phone or the Internet – and 10% send them.
Some image sharing occurs in genuinely consensual peer relationships, and it’s usually not abusive. However, any coercion to share sexual content constitutes abuse.
Which children are most at risk?
Children with poor psychological health, poor relationships with their parents, low self-esteem and those who have been exposed to other forms of abuse are more at risk sexual abuse online.
When it comes to age, girls aged 11 to 15 are at the highest risk for the exploitation of children, although it also happens to very young children.
Tips to protect your child
Here are some practical steps you can take to minimize the risks your child faces online and to help them navigate online challenges safely.
These are based on known patterns of online abuse and identified factors that put children at greater or lesser risk.
Be careful with the photos. Think about who you allow to take photos of your children and where you share photos to make sure they aren’t being misused.
Talk openly about sex to children and adolescents so that they do not seek advice or information online from individuals. Children who are well informed can be less likely be targeted. In particular, talk about consent, and what is consensual behavior between children, and what is not.
Chat with teens about secure image sharing. This includes the risks associated with sharing photos of themselves in provocative poses or revealing clothing. This conversation should start early and develop as your child gets older. Lots of child exploitation Equipment is taken by adolescents or by people known to children and then shared more widely.
Take an interest in your children’s online life and know their online friends. Do this regularly, just like you do with their real friends. Pay attention to changes or special friends. Keep these conversations going. Listen to their experiences.
Encourage attendance at prevention programs in schools. Then talk to your children about what they have learned to reinforce the messages or answer your questions.
Talk to your kids about how to react to sexual innuendos or unwanted advances and when to talk to an adult. Start by asking children for examples of sexual innuendo and the types of things people might say online. Then think about the best ways to respond. For example, teens might withdraw from conversations or block acquaintances. Or say something like “I’m not into this kind of chat” or say “No thanks, not interested” to any invitation or request.
Chat with teens about online safety. This includes restricting who is allowed to view or share the posts. You may need to improve yourself first.
Know what your child is doing online. Monitor their behavior online, rather than relying solely on software controls, which are less effective.
Keep the computer in a common area. Ensure that their computer is used in the common areas of the house and restrict children’s access to mobiles at night. If possible, do it from a young age and make it a routine, so teens don’t get the message that you don’t trust them.
Build your child’s esteem and confidence. Children with low self-esteem are more likely to do online grooming designed to make children feel special.
Meet your own needs. Children are at greater risk of violence when parents are struggling with their own mental health or addiction issues. If you need help acquire help or talk to your doctor.
If you suspect that your child is being groomed or exploited, or if you come across any exploitative material, you may report it via ThinkuKnow or contact your local police.
If you are a child, adolescent or young adult who needs help and support, call the children’s helpline at 1800 55 1800.
If you are an adult who was abused as a child, call the Blue Knot helpline at 1300 657 380 or visit their website.