A Parent's Worst Nightmare
The email pictured above was sent from the mother of a pre-teen girl to the Liveline show on RTE Radio 1 last Thursday. This exceptionally distressed mother, had discovered that her daughter had been forwarding sexualized content of herself to a number of men. This truly is a parent's worst nightmare. From the discourse in the email, the level of distress and pain is very evident. This is something that no parent, or child should ever experience. However, the statistics are really frightening. They show the that number of children being sexually exploited online is increasing at a rate never before imagined.
From the outset, it is important for any parent of a child who finds themselves in this position to understand that the child is a victim. The child cannot be tarnished with blame, as they are 100% innocent in their actions. What enables an online sexual predator is the feeling both victims and their families can experience that in some way this was their fault. The child's for engaging in the behaviour, the parent for permitting access to the technology. This type of mind set, while completely understandable often leads to feelings of extreme guilt and shame. Inevitably it can lead to some victims and their families not coming forward to seek help.
400 Other Victims
As difficult as it is for a family to come to terms with, if people don't bring these matter to the attention of an investigator, the abuse simply continues with other victims. Studies of those found to have sexually exploited children online, have shown that they can have as many as 400 victims by the time they are caught. This would suggest there are possibly countless other families, broken by the same experience, who felt that they could not come forward either. There is only one winner in such circumstances, and it is not the victims.
The Best of the Best
The fear for families and victims when it comes to reporting this horrific type of crime are very real. Victims can feel like they will not be believed, or that in some way this was all their own fault. Of all crimes, both police and other professionals worldwide dealing in this area, give victims and their families better than their best efforts. Those that work in this of online child abuse and exploitation are exceptionally passionate about what they do. Very often they are the best of the best and have an unrivalled passion for what they do.
Every effort is made to protect the victim and their family. Their primary goal is always the safety of the child. For these talented individuals there is no sweeter victory than to bring an offender to justice. Victims and other family members, often need psychological support. Again, due to the severity of the crime involved, we can state without any reservation, extra effort is always made by professionals who work in this much specialised area.
Victims Are Innocent
The issue of blame does not lie with the victim, or the parent who afforded access to a digital device. We know from speaking to literally thousands of parents, many have little or no idea of how to sufficiently protect a child online. There are also so many potential attack vectors for an online predator, through apps, games, social media and many more. It can be such an arduous task and far beyond the remit of the great majority of parents to have every gap in the fence covered.
The Odds Are Stacked Against Us For Now
The odds are stacked in the favour of the online predator for now. The online world has afforded unrestricted and unfettered access to a whole planet of children. For many parents, knowing their child is at home and up in their bedroom can instil a false sense of security. It's the lack of ability to fully protect a child online and that false sense of security that an online predator begins to take advantage of. Online sexual predators count on parents not being part of a child's online life and being unable to secure a child's online life.
These individuals are empowered by their ability to present themselves as children to children online. They can take advantage of the vulnerability young children by presenting themselves as something that they are not. Predators manipulate and groom children to the point where a connection and trust is established, so the abuse can begin. Once it does begin, the child's silence is almost assured. Often ending only when the online predator moves on, or abuse is inadvertently discovered by a friend, sibling or parents of the victim. For some victims, they will live their entire lives without ever coming forward, for others the abuse experienced will be the source of self-destruction for the rest of their lives.
To be able to come forward as the victim of child sexual abuse or exploitation, is difficult. It requires a great level of strength. The ability to step forward and give an account of the abuse is not an easy task. But by doing so, it helps others. By coming forward, it helps others who are too afraid to tell of their own experiences. This helps those who may have ended up as victims to the same online predator. It has the potential to put a stop to one more online predator from destroying countless more lives. It has the potential so see justice served. Not just for one individual. But possibly for each and every other victim who has their innocence taken by a monster.
The email truly is any parent's worst nightmare and it was horrific to read. However, it is important that every parent takes the time to read it. Then take the time to contemplate how vulnerable are your children right now. Do you know who they are interacting with, every time they enter the online world? Ask yourself this question. Is there simething that I can do right now to better protect my child online?