The battle to protect young children from online predators in Australia, could be close to breaking point. Police have been forced to admit to the public, the amount of child abuse being perpetrated online, is beginning to overwhelm them.
Young children are uploading and live streaming sexual content of themselves, on occasion while even sitting in the same room as their parents. The children are being tricked and coerced in to filming themselves and then sharing this content online.
This shocking revelation come as police issue a stark warning, about the scale of online abuse they are attempting to deal with to parents. Australian Federal Police Commander Lesa Gale in an interview stated “The number is so great that my team are really struggling to keep up with the volume and velocity of this. This year alone has seen 12,000 individual reports made to police. Each one of these reports can contain thousands of images and videos. “There's so much material being made that police work alone can't keep on top of the problem” she said.
Commander Gale advised “it's an issue that requires education and prevention strategies so young people and parents know the risks when they are using technology and different social media platforms” In a move to raise awareness of how vulnerable children are, the Australian Federal Police have released details of an actual case for parents to read and understand, how vulnerable a child can be to the methods which are being used by online predators.
In this instance a teenage girl received a friend request from Daisy. Daisy began complementing the young girls looks and dancing. This is a method which is used to break down initial barriers and develop a rapport with a target. The use of friendly and positive messages increase the development of trust between a predator and target. This is the actual exchange between Daisy and the child released by the Australian Federation police.
Emily : Hi Daisy
Daisy : Hi You're so pretty.
Emily : Thanks
(Later that same day)
Daisy : WYD (What You Doing?)
Emily : just dancing in my room wyd (What You Doing?)
Daisy : Oh, watcha wearing?
You should join my dance competition
Emily : Just pyjamas
What's your competition?
Daisy : send a nawty vid hehe
Emily : whats that?
Daisy : I bet you'd be great
Emily : I don't know what you mean
Daisy : the supa fun kind
without clothes showing off your body
(Later that same night)
Daisy : Are you going to enter
your could send a video of you taking off your pjs and putting them back on
Emily : i don't know
I might get in trouble
After a little while Daisy requested videos of the girl dancing without her clothes on, saying she could enter her in to a competition, she was running. The predator was minimising the act of removing clothing, suggesting the child dances naked, by allowing the child to believe others are doing this unusual act also. It is normal, there is even a prize as it is a competition. A predator normalizing an abnormal behaviour
All that is required to put a child on a path to sexual extortion is a single image. As can be seen from the interaction between Emily and Daisy, the continued requests by Daisy are putting pressure on Emily to comply with the request. While she has expressed fear of getting in trouble, the fear is almost misplaced, fearing she might get in trouble with her parents, rather than fearing the trouble she would bring upon herself if she forwarded an image to Daisy. This would lead to Daisy now having full control and a hold over Emily. Leaving her free to demand whatever type of content she chooses from Emily. It can be very difficult for children to say no to someone whom they have met online, especially if they have created a bond with them. Friendships can form very quickly online and inhibitions can reduce considerably faster than in the real world.
One of the most upsetting examples revealed of an online predator targeting young girls online in Australia so far, was that of Fabian Merharry. The 29-year-old BMX rider was convicted of 193 child sex offences. A Vlogger on YouTube, Merharry uploaded videos of himself doing tricks on his BMX bike.
When contacted by girls he would engage with them on Skype. After convincing them to reveal an intimate image or video or anything that could compromise the young girl, he then ordered them to commit sickening acts. On themselves and unbelievably in some cases their younger siblings. For those few who were brave enough to refuse, Marharry would then post the images he already had on Social Media. Examples of threats Marharry made to his victims were
“for ever five minutes that goes by, I'll tag another friend of yours”
“All your friends will see the videos and pics of you with your face in it.”
“I'll send the pics to your mother right now. You have 2 mins to reply or I'll send them.”
“A monster of depravity” was how the Victorian Court Judge Liz Gaynor, described Merharry. “Yours was prolonged, classically and remorseless behaviour which demonstrated with appalling clarity the dangers inherent in Social Media”. He was sentenced to 12 years in jail, but increased to 22 after an appeal.
In the presentations we deliver to children and parents, we try to impress on everyone, having an internet enabled device in the home is a doorway. Parents sometimes can be all too aware of the dangers that lurk outside of the home, yet neglect an access point for the entire planet to their own children. An access point where there are a multitude of individuals from all over the globe attempting to get contact to a child through an unsecured, unmonitored device. There is no point in looking out the window keeping watch for a paedophile, telling yourself your kids are safe, if the predator is already upstairs in your child's room on their device.
Parents are the first line of defence. Education and communication, combined with age appropriate device access, restriction and monitoring based software on all devices children have access to. There is no delete if this happens to your child, the individual who believes this will never happen to their child, or my child is not on those type of sites, are likely to be the families of a victim. Ignorance is not protection. This is very real and it is happening. Step up and get involved in your children's online lives in a positive way, before a predator does so in a very negative and harmful way.