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Children as young as 8 are being groomed by online predators

A UK organisation dedicated to protecting children from online exploitation warns that online predators are increasingly targeting younger children.
CEOP sounds the alarm bells about online grooming The UK’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) group warned last week that children as young as 8 are being groomed by online predators.  The warning came during the release of a report that stated in the past two years 184 children from the UK had become victims of sexual online abuse, with several self harming or taking their lives as a result. The predator typically pretends to be a child, sometimes taking on a different gender to gain the child’s trust on one of the major social networking sites such as Facebook.  The conversation then moves to more private messaging services, where the abuser attempts to encourage the exchange of sexual images. Children are then later blackmailed into carrying out increasingly degraded acts under the threat that these images will be shared with friends and family if they don’t do what is asked of them. It’s difficult not to feel horror at the deprivation and absolute immoral disregard of the perpetrators.  It’s also disconcerting to know that for all the cases of online grooming that are revealed there are probably far more that go undetected. And while the CEOP report is focused on the UK this is an issue that transcends national boundaries. There is a question that almost naturally follows these revelations though few venture to voice it. It’s usually along the lines that have the children who have been groomed and abused to some degree experienced some kind of unsettled home life and as a result may be emotionally disturbed and consequently more vulnerable to online grooming?

One in ten children receive aggressive and unwanted sexual solicitations

However, by considering the facts on the ground it becomes clear that inappropriate sexual advances are far more common than you might think. The Childhood Wellbeing Research Centre cites a ‘large US report’ that says one in ten children or young people receive aggressive and unwanted sexual solicitations. The same organisation says that 99% of children between 12 and 15 use the Internet. A very rough back of the envelope calculation reveals that in the UK for example, with a population of approximately 11 million children, just over one million kids are receiving unwanted advances. If the Childhood Wellbeing Research Centre figures are correct it illustrates just how commonplace this activity is. It’s almost inevitable that buried among this mass of online hormonal surges there are going to be predators seeking out opportunities. Whether the children who are being groomed display some form of vulnerability that makes them particularly susceptible is not a question we have the knowledge or expertise to answer.

Facebook parental control

However, one thing is certain; young people in early adolescence are probably more vulnerable because they are sexually curious and experimental. And because they’re still growing and learning about the world, many might not understand that behavioural boundaries in the online world are just as important as boundaries in the physical world. CEOP’s offers a wealth of advice for parents, ranging from getting involved in child’s online life to understanding that not everyone online is who they claim to be. This advice extends to talking about tricky subjects and the importance of online tools to protect your children; not to spy on them but to help set appropriate boundaries as they grow and develop, to safeguard them against precisely the type of activity that CEOP is dedicated to tracking down.  

Written by Steve Bell

Steve has a background in IT and business journalism and has written extensively for both the UK national and trade press including The Guardian, Independent-on-Sunday, The Times, The Register, MicroScope and Computer Weekly. He's also worked for most of the world's largest IT companies producing content producing. He has a particular focus on IT security and has produced several magazines in this area.

More articles by Steve Bell

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