3.14 Children Exposed to Abuse through Digital Media
Online abuse is any type of abuse that happens on the internet, accessed on mobile phones, laptops, computers, tablets, webcams, cameras and games consoles.
Children and young people may experience different types of abuse:
Impact and issues
Children need to be aware of the impact that their online activity can have on both themselves and other people, and the digital footprint that they create on the internet. It’s easy to feel anonymous online and it’s important that children are aware of who is able to view, and potentially share, the information that they may have posted. When using the internet, it’s important to keep personal information safe and not share it with strangers. The importance of reporting inappropriate conversations, messages, images and behaviours should be stressed, and information given on how this can be done.
It is important for children to realise that new friends made online may not be who they say they are and that once a friend is added to an online account, you may be sharing your personal information with them.
If there are concerns about a child being the subject of inappropriate sexual contact or approach by another person, it should be reported to the police via the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (www.ceop.police.uk).
Children and young people should be discouraged from taking sexually explicit pictures of themselves and sharing them on the internet or by text. It is essential that young people understand the legal implications and the risks they are taking. It is illegal to create, possess or distribute an indecent image of a child (under 18), even if it is a self-generated image or ‘selfie’. Once an image has been sent, it could be shared with others or posted elsewhere online. In some cases, adults may also coerce a young person into sending such images which can then be used to blackmail and ensnare them (sextortion). The Criminal Justice and Courts Act (2015) introduced the offence of Revenge Porn, where intimate images are shared with the intent to cause distress to the specific victim.
It is also important to remember that the internet empower children to assert their rights and express their opinions, and it provides multiple ways to connect and communicate with their families and friends.
- Sexting: the use of technology to generate images or videos made by children under the age of 18 of other children; images that are of a sexual nature and are indecent. See NSPCC guidance for professionals on Sexting.
- Social networking sites: are often used by perpetrators as a way to access children for sexual abuse. Radical and extremist groups may use social networking to attract children into rigid and narrow ideologies that are intolerant of diversity: this is similar to the grooming process and exploits the same vulnerabilities.
- Cyber-bullying: This is when a child is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child using the Internet and/or mobile devices. See Department of education guidance for schools on cyber-bullying.
- Live streaming: broadcasting of live video on the internet from a specific location in real-time, and can be watched by many people. Research has found that children can either groomed or coerced into live-streaming videos of themselves, via their webcam, mobile or tablet. See UK Safer Internet Centre advice.
Protection and Action to take
- Evidence of anyone accessing or creating indecent images of children must be referred to the Police and Children's social care, in line with the Referrals Procedure.
- Section 67 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 created a new criminal offence criminalising sexual communication with a child. The changes criminalise a person aged 18 or over who intentionally communicates with a child under 16, who the adult does not reasonably believe to be 16 or over, if the communication is sexual or if it is intended to encourage the child to make a communication which is sexual. The offence will be committed whether or not the child communicates with the adult. The offence will apply only where the defendant can be shown to have acted for the purposes of obtaining sexual gratification and is subject to a 2 year maximum prison sentence.
- Suspected online terrorist material should be reported to: www.gov.uk/report-terrorism. All schools have to have a Prevent Single Point of Contact (SPOC) who is the lead for safeguarding in relation to protecting individuals from radicalisation and involvement in terrorism.
- Where a sexting (youth produced sexual imagery) incident has taken place, settings should follow the national guidance ‘Sexting in schools and colleges: Responding to incidents and safeguarding young people’ (for a quick guide see Advice for schools: Responding to & Managing Sexting Incidents).
- Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre
- UK Safer Internet
- To report/remove content online, contact the site directly or via the Internet Watch Foundation
- Child Safety Online: A practical guide for parents and carers whose children are using social media
- Safeguarding children and protecting professionals in early years settings: online safety considerations for managers