The NSPCC is urging parents to talk to their children about online safety if they buy them internet devices as Christmas presents, following a huge rise in contacts to Childline about online sexual abuse.
In 2015/16 there were 3,716 Childline counselling sessions about online sexual abuse, a 24 per cent increase from 2014/15 (2,994 contacts on the issue).
This issue has also increased by 250 per cent (1,061 sessions) over the past three years.
The number of children in Scotland who contacted Childline with concerns about online sexual abuse is only available for 2015/16, when 151 got in touch with the helpline.
Online sexual abuse can take the form of grooming, child sexual exploitation, sexting, being made to perform sex acts on webcam, meet up in person, and viewing distressing sexually explicit content.
With tablets, smart phones, and games consoles appearing on many children’s Christmas list, it is vital that parents talk to their children about being safe online, spotting the signs of inappropriate behaviour, and how to report it.
Online sexual abuse was such a big problem for children last year that it took up a third of all contacts about online issues, including bullying and safety.
In 2015/16 the NSPCC’s service received 1,480 contacts about online child sexual exploitation; an increase of 18 per cent from 2014/15 (up from 1,252).
Some children contacted Childline because they felt trapped by their situation because they felt guilty and ashamed, were frightened to talk to an adult about the issue, were being blackmailed, or were considering meeting up in person. Some wrongly feel that they are to blame because they have participated in their abuser’s actions, and are afraid to speak out.
A 14-year-old girl told Childline: “I met this guy through social media and he was really nice; he told me I was beautiful and I felt that I could talk to him about everything. He asked me for some topless photos which I didn’t think was a big deal, so I sent him a few. But now he’s turned really nasty and is threatening to post them online if I don’t send him more. I’m really worried and embarrassed and I don’t know what to do.”
The NSPCC recommends parents talk regularly and openly with their children and has a host of simple tips and advice on its website. Tips include:
· Exploring sites and apps together;
· Ask about things they might see online which make them feel uncomfortable;
· Talk about being Share Aware and what is, and is not, ok to share online;
· Reassure them that you won’t overreact – you’re just looking out for them.
Matt Forde, national head of service for NSPCC Scotland said: “The web can be a fantastic place for children and young people to socialise, explore their interests, and learn, but every parent buying an internet device should be aware that there are risks, too and think about installing parental controls.
In the last year we’ve seen a staggering rise in online sexual abuse, with many children turning to Childline when the situation has escalated. Often groomers will use devious tactics to lure in young people and manipulate them into situations that leave them feeling frightened and ashamed. The NSPCC has lots of resources to help parents talk about online issues so that they can help keep a child safe and happy online.”