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Children and young people need to be empowered to keep themselves safe. At a public swimming pool we have gates, put up signs, have lifeguards and shallow ends, but we also teach children how to swim.

Dr Tanya Byron, Safer Children in a Digital World (2008)

We believe every child and young person should be protected, educated and empowered to stay safe when using the internet and digital technologies.

Child abuse and exploitation in all its forms is increasingly occurring online.

Access to technology by children has facilitated instant connectivity and accessibility, children are able to communicate freely with people they would not usually interact with.  Research into online exploitation of children has indicated that children are less likely to disclose being harmed online so harm online is often discovered accidentally by parents/carers or through notifications by the Police.  Also, exploitation online does not always follow familiar models of child exploitation so can be more difficult to detect by professionals.

Some of the methods of online exploitation of young people include:-

  • Harassment and bullying through text messaging.
  • Purchasing mobile phones for victims and sharing their numbers among group or gang members.
  • Randomly contacting children via social networking sites.
  • Using ‘friends’ lists on networking sites of known victims to target children and young people.
  • Viewing extremely or violent pornography and discussing it during sexual assaults.
  • Posting images of victims with rival gang members to invite a sexual assault as punishment.
  • Filming and distributing incidents of rape.
  • Contacting and grooming children and young people through online gaming sites.

Perpetrators can use social media apps and online games to identify young people whom they seek to groom.  Children can be groomed online without ever meeting the perpetrator face to face, perpetrators online can be known to use persuasive language to arrange meeting the young person quickly.  GPS technology can be use to pinpoint (within a few meters) where a photo was taken – possibly revealing a victim’s location easily.

The internet has, in particular, become a significant tool in the distribution of child abuse images. Children and young people can be coerced to post sexual images of themselves, or peers, online or via their mobile phone.  Then they have no control over these images which can lead to heightened trauma for the victim as there is a visual record of the abuse and they experience repeat victimisation with each viewing of their abuse.  Perpetrators can use these images as a bargaining tool with subsequent threats and coercion to engage in further sexual activity and sharing of images.

Exploring a young person's online world

Most young people use digital technology on a regular basis, moving between their online and offline words seamlessly.  Professionals should be aware that digital technology is an integral part of young people’s lives and influential in the formation of their identify and relationships with others.  Therefore, exploring a young person’s online network and how they choose who, and who not, to interact with is essential in effective safeguarding.

The PCFSW Digital Research & Practice Development Project (May 2020) has some practitioner guidance on how to explore a young person’s online activity to determine the aspects that may enhance their resilience or may be a risk to their safety and wellbeing.  This offers fourth dimension to the DoH Assessment Framework to include digital citizenship and digital risks.

Young people’s use of various social media apps can change rapidly.  The NPSCC provides up to date information and guidance about popular social networks, apps and games young people are currently using.

Online Safeguarding – The Dark Web – The Children’s Society briefing explains what the dark web is, why young people may be accessing it and what to do if you have concerns.

Grooming of children online

The grooming of children online aims to develop a ‘special’ relationship with the child so they lower their inhibitions.  However, online grooming can often take the form of the perpetrator adopting a false identity in order to groom the child more quickly and arrange an offline meeting to carry out a contact sexual offence.  During the grooming process online, the perpetrator will try to find out as much about the victim as possible in order to determine the likelihood of the child telling others.

They may then try to isolate the child from these protective networks through threats or bribes.  This process involves removing the child’s inhibitions to sexual activity by exposing them to child sexual abuse images.  Repeated exposure aims to de-sensitise the child to sexual activity between adults and children and distort their understanding of social norms.  May children can feel less inhibited in their online worlds and find themselves caught in a trap of being ‘duped’ into saying or doing something they later feel ashamed about.  This sense of same further silences child victims who feel unable to speak out about the abuse they experienced.

Kayleigh’s Love Story highlights how quick and easy it can be for children to be groomed online without them or those around them knowing it is happening

Breck’s Last Game explains how online gaming can be used to groom and exploit young people.

Youth Produced Sexual Imagery

Young people may be coerced by adults or peers to share sexual images of themselves or pass on images sent to them. This includes photographs, videos or live streaming. The widespread use of smart phones has made the practice much more common with images being posted on social networking sites.

It is a crime to take, make, permit to take, distribute, show, possess, possess with intent to distribute, or to advertise indecent photographs or pseudo-photographs of any person below the age of 18, even if the image is of the young person themselves. This guidance for young people explains the legal framework around this issue in more detail.

There are also short films that demonstrate the serious harm that viewing indecent images of children can cause, including the Is She Legal?  video.

The UK Council for Internet Safety published guidance on how to respond to incidents. All such incidents should be immediately reported to the Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL) or equivalent and managed in line with your setting’s child protection policies.

Guidance for DSLs, their deputies, headteachers and senior leadership teams in schools and educational establishments in England can be found here https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/sharing-nudes-and-semi-nudes-advice-for-education-settings-working-with-children-and-young-people/ 

Childline’s Zipit app, uses humour to help teenagers to help teenagers deal with unwanted requests for sexual images of themselves.  The free app offers young people a gallery of images and animations which they can send in response to requests for sexual pictures and to deal with difficult sexting situations.

Online bullying or cyberbullying

Cyberbullying can be defined as “The use of Information Communication Technology, particularly mobile phones and the internet to deliberately hurt or upset someone” (Department for Children, Schools & Families, 2007).

Cyberbullying is a form of bullying with 12% of young people being affected by this.  There is guidance for schools and an online PSHE toolkit.

Children can engage in, or be a target of, bullying using a range of methods including text, phones or social network sites to reach their target. Children may not know who’s bullying them online, or it may be an extension of offline peer bullying. Cyber bullying can happen at any time or anywhere, a child can be bullied when they are alone in their bedroom so it feels like there’s no escape.

Mobile phones are also used to capture violent assaults of other children for circulation. This form of bullying is a growing problem in schools and other settings. It should be taken seriously by any practitioner who becomes aware of it. Harassment by use of ICT is a criminal offence and if necessary concerns should be reported to the Police.

For more advice on preventing and responding to cyberbullying visit www.nspcc.org.uk 

Bullying Online is an online help and advice service combatting all forms of bullying.  Recognising that many young people that have lost friends through being bullied in the real world may turn to the internet to make new friends, the ‘Staying safe in cyberspace’ section gives tips for staying safe in chat rooms.  There is also a section on mobile phone bullying, giving tips on how to protect yourself, and information on how the law can help.  The site provides information for pupils, teachers and parents.

Harmful Online Challenges and Hoaxes

A hoax is a deliberate lie designed to seem truthful, and online challenges generally involve users recording themselves taking a challenge, and then distributing the video through social media channels, inspiring or daring others to repeat the challenge.

The DfE in collaboration with the UK Council for Internet Safety have produced some guidance that emphasises the importance of safeguarding procedures, internet filtering and monitoring procedures, pastoral support and the benefits of teaching children about internet safety. The contribution that can be made by elements of PSHE education, to internet safety, is mentioned with links to some teaching resources.  

In responding to information about harmful content the guidance says:

“You should carefully consider if a challenge or scare story is a hoax. Generally speaking, naming an online hoax and providing direct warnings is not helpful. Concerns are often fuelled by unhelpful publicity, usually generated on social media, and may not be based on confirmed or factual occurrences or any real risk to children and young people. There have been examples of hoaxes where much of the content was created by those responding to the story being reported, needlessly increasing children and young people’s exposure to distressing content.”

Useful links

Safeguarding Children and Protecting Professionals in Early Years Settings

To support early years settings, the UKCIS Education Working Group has developed two documents to help early years settings managers and staff consider their practice and to take steps to safeguard both children and adults online.

Key Principles of Effective Prevention Education

Key principles of effective prevention education – produced by the PSHE Association on behalf of CEOP

Produced in partnership with Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP), this report outlines 11 key principles of effective practice in prevention education. These principles will help PSHE education professionals to teach high-quality online safety education as part of their broader PSHE programmes. The principles are based on a literature review of research into common elements of successful educational interventions, encompassing hundreds of programmes in the UK and abroad.

UK Council for Internet Safety

A practical guide for parents and carers whose children are using social media. The guide includes practical tips about the use of safety and privacy features on apps and platforms, as well as conversation prompts to help families begin talking about online safety. It also contains pointers to further advice and support.

A practical guide for providers of social media and interactive services. The guide has examples of good practice from leading technology companies, and advice from NGOs and other online child safety experts. Its purpose is to encourage businesses to think about “safety by design” to help make their platforms safer for children and young people under 18.

There are many more useful resources available around the internet advising how to keep children safe online. The following links are a small selection

  • Internetmatters.org Internet Matters is an independent, not-for-profit organisation to help parents keep their children safe online. Internet Matters believe in maximising children’s potential online, while staying safe.
  • East of England Broadband Network (E2BN) – Essential Online Safety
  • UK Safer Internet Centre provides online safety tips, advice and resources for Children, Parents, Carers, Teachers and Professionals to help children and young people stay safe on the internet.
  • Safenetwork.org.uk
  • kidSMART
  • Guide to Mobile Web Safety – by Carphone Warehouse Carphone Warehouse guide helping to keep kids safe on their mobile phones with Professor Tanya Byron.
  • Anti-Bullying Alliance – is a unique coalition of organisations and individuals, who work together to stop bullying and create safer environments in which children and young people can live, grow, play and learn. The ABA has published findings in the UK and internationally, on the impact of involvement in school bullying (as a victim, bully, or bully-victim) on mental health throughout adolescence and into adulthood.
  • National Crime Agency’s CEOP Command – works with child protection partners across the UK and overseas to identify the main threats to children and coordinates activity against these threats to bring offenders to account.
  • O2 & NSPCC have joined forces to provide expert advice for parents or carers to help keep children safe online. Whether it is setting up parental controls, adjusting privacy settings, understanding social networks or concerns about online gaming. Speak with one of their advisors on 08088 005002
  • South West Grid for Learning (SWGfL) E-safety Resources
  • Childnet.com and Know it All – The childnet International website gives internet safety advice and links for young people, parents, teachers and other organisations. Their award winning suite of ‘Know It All’ resources have been designed to help educate about the safe and positive use of the internet
  • Think you know – provides resources, training and support for professionals who work directly with children and young people. Their films, learning activities and other resources are developed in response to intelligence from child protection experts within the CEOP Command.
  • Getsafeonline.org – provides expert advice for parents regarding their children’s online safety.
  • Digizen
  • Digiduck’s Big Decision A story of friendship and responsibility online.
  • Stop it Now! UK and Ireland is a child sexual abuse prevention campaign. It is run by the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, the only UK-wide child protection charity dedicated solely to reducing the risk of children being sexually abused. We support adults to play their part in prevention through providing sound information, educating members of the public, training those who work with children and families and running our freephone confidential. Stop it Now! have produced a film to deter people from viewing and sharing sexual images of children.
  • Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) is the UK Hotline for reporting criminal online content especially;
    • Child sexual abuse content hosted anywhere in the world
    • Criminally obscene adult content hosted in the UK
    • Non-photographic child sexual abuse images hosted in the UK
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