A new study published by the Internet Watch Foundation, has revealed that 98% of victims of Live Streaming, Online Child Exploitation were under 13 years of age. Live streaming allows a user to broadcast live footage of themselves online. This is a feature of many popular social media platforms. The results of the new study, makes for seriously harrowing reading. It is hard to imagine that young people are live streaming themselves being sexually exploited online.
“This new research shows a worrying new trend in the abuse of children. Permanent captures from live-streams showing children being groomed or encouraged to perform sexual acts, now represent most of the new images and videos IWF sees.” A total of 2046 images and live video feed were examined over a three months, from August to October 2017 . “The majority of children we saw in this study were aged between seven to 13. But the youngest was assessed as just three.”
Here are some of the highlights of the study.
96% of victims were girls.
96% showed a child on their own, in a home environment.
18% of the abuse was categorised as Category A, which includes the rape and sexual torture of children.
40% of the abuse was categorised as Category A or B, which indicates serious sexual abuse.
100% of images had been harvested from their original upload locations.
The study reveals that the online child exploitation material, is being self-generated by the victim themselves. Victims were found to be producing and distributing their own child sexual exploitation content, in the safety of their own homes. Incredibly some of the content showed victims creating, content the bedroom and bathroom of the family home, while even communicating with a parent outside the room. Once the content had been uploaded, it was then shared on to “third-party sites”. ” 73% of content appearing on 16 dedicated forums. This indicates the abusive imagery was being shared with the intention of advertising paid downloads of videos of webcam child sexual abuse”.
“This form of grooming is complicated and only possible because of the ‘anonymity’ the internet offers”. It can be quite difficult for children to identify who they are actually in contact with in the online world. Children are very innocent, and have a tendency to be over trusting of people who they meet online, especially if they believe it is another young person, of the same age. “An offender may be, for example, a 40-year-old man. But by abusing a legitimate internet site to create a false profile, he could appear online as a 12-year-old school girl. Sadly, through this study we saw a range of grooming scenarios that abusers employ.”
It can also be very difficult for a child to conceptualize a sense of danger, while in the safety of their own home. Children do not yet have an ability for sequential thinking, they will react to a given situation based on the emotion they are experiencing, at a given moment. A predator can take full advantage of this. When these individuals interact with children, they can use a strategy known as Grooming. A perpetrator can apply affinity seeking strategies to begin developing a bond. The predator may present with similar interests to the targeted victim. If you think about your own social connections, you tend to get on better with people who have similar interests to you. You have something in common. This information, what is liked or disliked, is often accessible online posted on a social media profiles.
While engaging in sexual desensitization. sexualized commentary, or imagery is introduced in conversation. This helps to break down barriers. To encourage a natural interest or curiosity, which can then be taken advantage of. While communicating with a child, information about the child’s access to technology and level of supervision by guardians or parents is assessed.
Questions such as, are you allowed take the device to your bedroom or bathroom?, Is there parental controls on the device?, How often do your parents check your device?, affords the ability to do a risk assessment. If parents are not supervising or monitoring a device, then the Digital Doorway to the home is wide open. Children can be accessed at any time, day or night. The end result is the needs fulfilment of the abuser, having developed a relationship based on trust with the victim.
In the last 12 months, @COTDAge have seen first hand, an incredible increase in the number of young children getting access to devices. This study highlights how important it is for parents to supervise and monitor access to digital devices in the home. The need to have Parental Controls set up on all digital devices in the home is essential. We all lock our doors to protect our home without ever thinking.
However, we can often forget, Tablets and Smartphones provide a Digital Doorway, to what should be a safe place, which also need to be closed. Being complacent about this doorway can have disastrous results for families. An unsecured Digital Doorway means that anyone with internet access on the planet, can enter a home to make contact with children.
Attention is the currency people now exchange most with each other. The attention a child craves from a parent, can often be replaced by a digital babysitter, in the form of a device. When children are praised in the real world, the praise is given as a reward for a task or a behaviour. Seeking this praise from people online is no different. The behaviour elicits the reward. It may be as innocent as a cute picture of a puppy, with friends and followers showering numerous likes and positive comments. The attention being sought by posting the image, is then rewarded with praise.
If a child repeats the search for attention online over and over again, each time receiving praise for the action performed, it may begin to become a type of conditioned reinforcement. A learned behaviour over time, which can have a very negative impact on a person, who does not have the capability of comprehending the real world consequences for their actions. This permits the abuser to escalate the scale and intensity of the online child sexual abuse.
If we take this example and compare it to the incidences in the study, very quickly we begin to see a pattern of behaviour, which is identifiable and repeated. Each is encouraged in a very positive way by the person who is directing the victim, as they live stream their own online sexual exploitation. The abuser giving the victim attention by directing their actions, and also then rewarding the victim with praise, through comments and likes. This further encourages the victim that it is acceptable and ok to perform these actions.
The results of this study appear to be in line with others which are being published. All of which, are highlighting consistent negative results, which are increasing year on year. The time for considering if parental controls, which monitor and supervise children’s online activity in the home are required, has long past. We would suggest that it is now an absolute necessity, rather than an option. Children have to be protected when they go online, not only from Online Predators, but also from harmful content and contact, which is inappropriate for their age. Subject matter which could cause long-term negative effects on their mental health.
Silence and fear, are the fuel that empowers abuse. Parents need to be concerned about children interacting with someone online and then meeting them in real life. However parents really need to acknowledge, how much harm can take place without a child ever meeting up with a predator. Non contact offending, which this study highlights, can happen in the safety of the home. The study shows how it can happen while a parent is talking to their child from outside the door, while within the bedroom or bathroom, the abuse is occurring.
Open communication between a parent and child is essential. Parents need to know who the child is accepting as a Friend or Follower. Parents also need to be mindful of who the children themselves are Following online. Sit down today with your child and talk to them. It is only through education, monitoring and restricting access to the online world can we protect the safety and innocence of our children.
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