Online predators pose a significant threat to all children who are online. Certain decisions we make as parents are crucial in preventing this.
Predators have always sought easy access to children. This is not new information.
In the past, they had to put in some effort. They had to gain employment, or pursue hobbies that earned them trust, and access to children, and opportunity.
They took time to build their reputation and gain power. They used their positions to ensure that few dared to question them, and they easily silenced those who did.
Or, they built positive, close relationships with families, and in doing so, no-one thought to look for their true intentions.
Plenty still do this. Over 90% of sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone known and trusted by the child — that’s a statistic we cannot afford to ignore. But while many still choose to put in the time and effort in the physical world, they no longer need to.
Despite our 'working with children checks', our policy developments, our raised awareness, our hard-working charities, and our police force; the reality is, the internet has made life so much easier for predators to find and groom children without the need to even leave their home.
All that is required is for them to turn on their computer or pick up their phone. They can look up the latest popular online game, social media platform or messaging application and create a profile.
And suddenly, there they are — building relationships and spending time with our children in ways that we would never dream of allowing in the physical world.
In our children’s bedrooms, following them around the house, contacting them directly — right under our noses, yet completely invisible to us. According to the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation, 70% of parents allow their children use of the internet anywhere in the house, with 22% of these left unsupervised. Further findings revealed that only 3% of parents listed grooming as a concern.
Predators use various techniques to lure and groom children with some pretending to be a child themselves and others not even bothering.
Initially, they come bearing praise, showing interest, building rapport and connection.
“Are you alone?”
“I love that pic.”
“You’re such a wonderful dancer!”
They request photos. They suggest games. They suggest private messaging apps. And again, they praise.
They share pictures and videos, normalising sexual activity, teaching our children that this is "just what people do" or "how they show they care".
Then, at some stage, they’ll threaten. They'll threaten with the pictures they have, they'll threaten with
“Nobody will love you.”
“Keep it a secret, "nobody will believe you.”
“You’ll be taken away.”
“It‘s all your fault.”
And then they ask for more...
We wouldn’t let a stranger into our houses, into our child’s bedroom, to play behind a closed door. We wouldn’t dream of it. So why on earth do we do it with a screen?
Someone recently asked me; “but what actually happens? Do they ask to meet the child in person?”.
Maybe - and harm will certainly ensue if they do. But the answer doesn’t matter. Because — as I’ve said before — when abuse happens online, it doesn’t make it any less real.
The ramifications can still last a lifetime.
According to a recent report conducted by Thorn, 15% of children aged between the ages of 9 and 12 admitted sending nude photos of themselves, with 42% of these admitting to sharing these images with someone they had not met in real life.
In 2020, The Internet Watch Foundation found over 150,000 webpages reported to them contained child abuse imagery, or links or advertising for child abuse imagery. Of those, nearly half contained self-generated images with 80% of the victims being girls aged between 11 and 13.
It’s obviously clear that the internet has brought us many advantages. Our screens can provide us with creativity, connection, convenience.
But to keep our children safe, there’s a crucial decision you need to make.
If you want to keep your kids safe online — safe from cyber bullying, safe from predators, safe from porn — then you need to make this decision now.
Make it, explain it, and never change your mind — and that decision is this...
Never let devices behind closed doors — ever.
Not during the day, not at night.
Not because you’re busy, not because you’re tired.
Not because they begged.
Not because you’re sure it’ll be fine and not because “just this once should be ok”.
And always closely supervise young children in primary school — advice provided by the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation in their report of 2020.
I say all this with an immense amount of empathy. I know it’s easier said than done. I know it’s not an easy road.
- We all get tired.
- We all need to get stuff done.
- We all have a lot to deal with.
But as you read this today, there are, according to the FBI, an estimated 500,000 predators at home.
Please don’t give them the opportunity.
If you make this decision, and you stick to it, you will never, ever regret that. But you may very well regret it if you don’t.