Keeping our kids safe from hidden dangers online

Children today are swiping before they are talking, and with the swipe of a finger your child can watch an episode of Peppa Pig, or a Minecraft or Roblox instructional video, or chat to their grandparents overseas. But with the next swipe of their finger, they may suddenly be exposed to something more sinister. 

As adults, we know that not everything we see online is authentic or genuine—and not everyone is who they seem to be. Children, however, generally do not have the same capacity for critical thinking as adults, nor the resilience to repel unwanted contact.

With greater connectivity, children unavoidably increase their chances of being inadvertently exposed to inappropriate content online, such as pornography. The viewing of this content has been reported by children as young as 6 who were initially watching online episodes of a popular children’s cartoon.

Deliberate exposure to adult sexual material is also a method used by predators to groom  children online, and can have the effect of ‘normalising’ sexual behaviour for the child. The Cyberreport team, during the course of conducting regulatory investigations into illegal online content, often sees content that involves children performing in front of a webcam. This performance can involve the child being groomed to act and pose in a highly sexualised way. Without supervision or awareness, the child may not fully appreciate that they are producing material for the sexual gratification of an adult predator.   

The notion of a child being groomed online for the purpose of producing sexual content is abhorrent. Unfortunately, we have also seen an increasing number of cases where children are uploading sexual material online of their own volition. The motivation, it seems, includes gratification via the number of ‘likes’ their image or video attracts, and the promise of monetary reward. This content is reported to us by members of the Australian community or law enforcement because takedown reduces the risk that the often vulnerable children depicted will be exploited or victimised.

Child sexual abuse material – its production and distribution – destroys children’s lives, perpetuating the cycle of abuse throughout the dark places of the online world.

We need everyone to play a part in keeping kids safer online. There are simple things all of us can do to minimise the threat of online child sexual abuse, be it as a parent, a grandparent, a carer, an older sibling or older friend:

  1. Educate yourself. Visit our website to explore and familiarise yourself with our helpful resources and up-to-date advice about online safety.
  2. Talk with your child about being safe online. Make this an ongoing conversation.
  3. Be aware of what your child is doing online. Spend time with them while they explore online and let them know they can talk to you about what they see.
  4. Consider using filters to limit access to content and exposure to inappropriate websites.
  5. If your child is exposed to inappropriate or offensive content, remember to stay calm. This will help you communicate and act in a constructive manner. Their welfare is your first concern.

Our ability to take action against child sexual abuse material and help protect children online is strengthened by the support of the community. You can play your part by encouraging online safety and, if you see something you believe to be illegal online content, report it to us.