An increasing number of children are being sexually abused over webcam or live streaming platforms. This can be just as harmful as 'contact' sexual abuse. Ensure your children know they can get help at any time and find out what you can do to support them.
Concerned about a child/young person?
If you're worried about your child and think something is not quite right, it's best to be on the safe side and find out more.
The CEOP team have seen an increase in cases of sexual abuse which takes place solely online, where in these cases the children involved never met the offender face to face and all of the abuse took place over the internet - whether that be via images, webcam or live streaming.
Why does this happen?
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 or live streaming platforms.
They might do this by grooming the child, building a relationship with the 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 video and perform sexual acts. In some cases they have been forced to physically hurt themselves or involve other children.
Children affected by online sexual abuse often feel that there is no way out and feel they can't tell anyone. It's important that you let your children know that whatever has happened there is always help available. It is never their fault, the offender has committed a serious sexual crime and the images are evidence of the crime.
What's the impact of online sexual abuse?
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 or recorded video 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 are describe finding it hard to know who to trust after such deception and betrayal online.
Why exactly would a young person engage in sexual acts online?
It can be traumatic for parents and guardians 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. Many parents also feel angry with their child - please don't.
Whilst feeling angry 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 young people 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.
Remember... 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.
Lies offenders tell.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.
"If you do this for me I'll leave you alone" The more young people do for them the more power offenders will think they have. No matter how far things have gone the best thing a young person can do if someone threatens them online is to get up, walk away and tell someone as soon as they can. If they feel trapped, they can report to CEOP or Childline at any time.
"The police will never find me, I've hidden myself on the internet" Sadly for the offender, no matter what clever tricks they claim to be using, everyone leaves a 'digital footprint' online. CEOP and the police are very good at tracking these people down, even if they're not in the UK.
"If you don't do more for me I'm going to share this image" Although it does happen at times, offenders often don't share the images - even when they've threatened to. It's not in their best interests. The more information they share, the easier it is for police to track them down.
"If I share this image you'll never get over it" Young people might feel they have no way out but this simply isn't true. Make sure your child knows that all problems can be solved with support and that many young people who have sadly had their images shared have gone on to feel better in time. Once the abuser is out of their life, even if their images are 'out there', young people can start to rebuild a sense of control.
"It's your fault for doing it in the first place" It's never the young person's fault. If they've sent a naked image or stripped on webcam, the only person responsible is the one who asked them to do it. They have committed a serious crime.
"There's no one who can help you. I'm in control" Let your child know that you will always be there to help them but if things have happened which they are too embarrassed to talk to you about they can contact CEOP or Childline. CEOP have dealt with many cases such as these and spoken to many young people in this situation.
It is never the child's fault... the offender has committed a serious crime and those images are the evidence of the crime.
It's also important to remember, that as a parent, you have not failed. It's hard to notice this sort of thing happening as children can be secretive about what they do online. Just remember to be there to support your child, and not let other emotions such as anger affect the support your child needs.
This page was created with the help of 'Think U Know'.
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