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Coronavirus emergency: Parents and carers urged to help protect youngsters from online paedophiles while off school

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Detective Sergeant Lee Allenby is part of North Yorkshire Police’s Online Abuse & Exploitation Team which targets online paedophiles and safeguards vulnerable victims. Here, DS Allenby highlights the very real dangers that lurk on the internet and explains how parents and carers can help to reduce the risk of children falling victim to abuse and child sexual exploitation (CSE) during the current Coronavirus-enforced break from schools and colleges…

“With the Government imposing emergency measures to reduce the spread of Coronavirus, thousands of young people now find themselves largely confined to their home for many week to come.

Alongside the considerable challenge to maintain their education away from the classroom and the strain on parenting in general, it also presents an increased risk regarding the amount of time they will be spending on laptops, tablets and smartphones.

While CSE is certainly not a recent development, it has become much easier for paedophiles to groom children online by posing as youngsters on social media and messaging sites.

These depraved criminals actively identify and target vulnerable young people whose personal profiles are often open for everyone to see on the internet.

At any one time, there are as many as 75,000 paedophiles active online.

Let that sink in and then honestly ask yourself: ‘Do I know who my child is talking to on the internet?’

This reality is every parent’s worst nightmare and should be a huge wake-up call to those who are simply unaware of what could be going on behind a child’s computer screen or smartphone.

It is vital that we all understand how young people use the internet. We need to know how social media works, what chat sites and apps children are using and how private information can be shared so easily.

Crucially, we need to be able to recognise that a change in a child’s behaviour could be linked to what they are doing online.”

Advice for parents and carers

For many of today’s young people there is no line between the online and offline worlds. As a parent or carer it’s important to understand what your child is doing online.

Parental controls

Although not a 100% safe, one way of setting appropriate boundaries online for your child is by setting parental controls on devices that link to the internet. Each internet service provider will be able to show you how to set your controls.

Visit thinkuknow or watch videos  from BT, Virgin, Sky and Talk Talk for further information.

Please note, your child may be accessing the internet from your neighbours’ wifi connection which would affect whether your safety settings are being applied. It’s always best to check.

Be involved in your child’s online life

Young people use the internet to socialise and grow and they require your guidance in the same way you support them offline. Talk to your child about what they’re doing online and, if they know you understand, they are more likely to approach you in case they need support. The NSPCC has some excellent guidance on their website and a YouTube video.

Setting boundaries

Just as you do in the ‘real world’, it is important to set boundaries when your child is using the internet. Technology is constantly evolving so it is important to continuously review and discuss boundaries with your child during this time. Think about what they might see, share, talk to and how much time they spend online. Emphasise to your child that not everyone is who they say they are and make sure that they know to never meet up with someone they only know online without talking to a trusted adult.

Talk to your child about webcams

The Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) command has recently warned of a concerning increase in sex offending on the internet involving webcams. A number of cases have recently been investigated where sex offenders have used extortion – or sextortion, as it has become known – to force young people to perform sexual acts on a webcam. It is important to control your child’s usage of webcams and to explain about the dangers of them.

Seeking further support, advice and ways of reporting child abuse

To get up speed on this increasingly concerning issue and to report incidents, parents and carers are urged to use the following organisations:

Child Exploitation Online Protection command (CEOP)http://ceop.police.uk/

Internet Watch Foundation https://www.iwf.org.uk/

NSPCC Helplines:

North Yorkshire Police

Call us on 101 if you have been a victim of abuse.

If you are in immediate danger, always dial 999 for an emergency response.

Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC)

Victims who would prefer not to go direct to the police and are not in immediate danger, can contact Bridge House, North Yorkshire’s Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC), on 0330 223 0362, email bridgehouse.sarc@nhs.net or go to www.bridgehousesarc.org/

You can also contact the Supporting Victims Unit direct at www.supportingvictims.org or call 01609 643100.”

Last modified: March 25, 2020