The discovery of people with child sex dolls in Ireland yesterday, was disturbing. This is on our doorstep. Education and awareness are a key component to protecting . As parents, we have an innate sense danger hard-wired in to us to protect our children from harm. From the moment your first child is born your home is made child proof to protect them from harm. We watch closely as children begin to explore the world, stepping in when needed, to prevent any bump or fall. As they grow and begin to explore the outside world, we are mindful of their surroundings, and who they are interacting with. Always on the look out for danger.

Why do parents go to all this trouble in the real world, then neglect their child's safety in an online environment. A place where there are so many possibilities and circumstances which can lead to psychological harm. Especially, when you consider there are so many different techniques used by online sexual predators, to target a child.

What is an Online Sexual Predator

When parents consider what an online sexual predator is, often it is thought that these individuals are all contact offenders. This end goal being to meet a child for a sexual purpose. While this does happen, it does not happen all the time. A child can be exploited online, without a sexual contact meeting in the real world. A proportion of online sexual offenders do not share the psychological vulnerabilities traditionally associated with contact sexual offenders. Many may never contact offend at all.

Many will wrongfully perceive an online sexual offender, as a mature elderly male. People visualise individuals like Jimmy Saville or perhaps father Brendan Smith, both of whom were contact offenders. The active online sexual offender tends to be younger and better educated. The access to children online enables them to explore fantasies they have without the need to ever meet the child. Even just being in contact with a child can satisfy some.

How online sexual predators access children online

  • Every online sexual predator has access to an unlimited number of children online.
  • This affords them the opportunity to exploit several children at a time.
  • The lack of parental involvement in a child online life, in comparison to the parents cautiousness in the real world, leave the very child vulnerable.
  • There is a huge lack of regulation upon sign up or any genuine attempt at enforcing an Age Restriction on Social Media Sites.
  • The whole purpose of Social Media sites, is to share information and images of yourself, and engage with others on the platform. Therefore it is no giant step to believe a child will communicate with a stranger when seeking validation by gathering as many friends or followers to appear popular among their peers.
  • The perception of anonymity, affords an offender a sense of safety. A feeling they are less likely to be identified and caught.They can also be anyone they want to be, young or old male or female. The options are endless.
  • Online Predators attempt to Groom children in a number fo different ways, to develop friendship and the trust of a child.
  • There can be a vetting process, and a risk assessment of a child. Is the child suitable for the needs of the abuser, who is mindful also of being exposed and identified, if a child were to tell an adult.
  • By lurking or watching the group online conversations, it can be possible to identify a susceptible child to then target with the introduction of the first private message. By having similar interest to that which the child has posted about, the offender can begin to build thrust and a rapport with the child, the early stages of friendship.
  • Does the child reply to a message?
  • Will they Friend or Follow a person they do not know?
  • Does the child post, share or swap images?
  • The online predator will attempt to develop a bond or friendship, on occasion attempting to be the childs closest friend. They may also use the profile of an authority figure, or a celebrity to catch the child off guard.
  • Almost all will introduce sexual references or images. Encouraging the child to explore their own natural curiosity
  • The focus for an online sexual predator remains sexual gratification. Some will spend time interacting with children online, others can be blunt and ask straight out for images, more just move straight on to the next child if unsuccessful.

Trauma for the Child

It is very difficult for anyone to comprehend, what a child goes through having been exploited online. Just try to imagine what it would feel like, knowing the record of the abuse you experienced: images or video, is out there and accessible to anyone long after the abuse has taken place. The impact of realising the permanence of this traumatic record, is earth shattering, just even thinking about it.

Thankfully children are becoming more aware of the dangers of individuals online and will report or block a person. However not every child has this knowledge or capacity to identify a threat. Parents have to involve themselves in the online world children are spending time in. With proper instruction a child will become more aware of the dangers and pitfalls. Never have an expectation a child will just be aware of online dangers. Be involved, stay involved and keep the conversation open at all times,

Team @COTDAge

Children of the Digital Age
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By Children of the Digital Age

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