As many of us approach National Child Protection Week 2021 in lockdown, the safety of our children online is at the forefront of my mind.
As a mother of three children, I am aware of the challenges of juggling home schooling with work and the importance of giving children in lockdown recreational time online.
Technology has been critical in allowing our children to be educated, entertained and connected with their school friends during the pandemic, but it also comes with some serious risks.
There are people who attempt to gain access to our unsuspecting children as they interact in these seemingly innocent online spaces. eSafety research of Aussie teens released earlier this year found that 3 in 10 had been contacted by a stranger online.
And, predators also seek out younger children to manipulate, to groom, abuse and exploit.
Predators trying to access children online is on the rise
eSafety has seen an exponential rise in reports about child sexual abuse material, including an increase of, “coerced, self-produced child sexual abuse content.” This huge jump in reporting and disturbing trend has been echoed internationally.
Over the more than 20 years of the Online Content Scheme’s operation, complaints about illegal and offensive content by the public have seen a steady increase, from 201 public reports in 2000 to more than 23,500 public reports about offensive and illegal online content this past financial year.
During the last financial year, eSafety investigators received 10,942 complaints about child abuse material, a 49 per cent jump from the 2019/20 financial year.
eSafety’s investigators see firsthand the results of children persuaded through online relationships to take risks, to share intimate images and to live stream sexual acts.
Our sister hotline in the UK, the Internet Watch Foundation found that reports of “self generated” imagery, including children recording themselves performing sexual acts increased by 77% from 2020 over 2019.
From befriending children through gaming and apps, to pretending to be a child themselves or using an imposter account, these predators are persuasive, manipulative and persistent.
A chilling recount from one of our reports reveals that during the recording of a sexual abuse video, the child’s parents can be heard chatting in the next room, unaware of what is happening to their child.
It is crucial that we establish fundamentals to ensure children can identify, navigate and negotiate healthy relationships, online and off.
eSafety teaching children about predatory people online
It is essential children are taught about ‘bad eggs’ or predatory people (whether known or unknown to them), unhealthy relationships, interactions and requests.
Topics like consent, the idea of saying ‘no’ and remaining firm in that decision are difficult concepts for children to learn and for parents to teach.
To support primary students to understand how to say no when they don’t feel comfortable, eSafety has developed a brand new virtual classroom running during National Child Protection Week.
Age-appropriate scenarios are essential to building children’s confidence, so they know what to do when online issues arise and when they have to say ‘no’.
Children from years 3 to 6 will practise setting personal online boundaries and develop help seeking and reporting strategies.
Through the virtual classroom, students learn how to set online boundaries and decide what steps to take if someone crosses that boundary. They explore what to do, and the words to use if they do not want their image taken or shared.
Importantly, they learn how to support and respect a friend’s decision if the friend does not consent to their image being shared.
By exploring these common online issues, eSafety hopes to give children the language, tools and strategies if they are ever in a situation where they are asked through online relationships to take risks, to share intimate images or to live stream sexual acts.
eSafety is also working with Crime Stoppers NSW during National Child Protection Week to help educate parents, carers and educators on the important role they can play in preventing unwanted contact and grooming.
eSafety’s National Child Protection Week activities form part of the new National Strategy to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse. The aim is to reduce the potential for online child sexual abuse to occur by building community awareness and the skills to promote safe online behaviours and early intervention.
We want to create a culture where children can recognise coercion and pressure and to have the tools to identify and resist this manipulation and call it out for what it is.
Children need strategies to develop the confidence to say ‘no’, to learn how to deflect and block, and to recognise when, how and who to ask for help.
It is crucial to start this learning early, using non-sexual scenarios so children can refine and practise responses in a safe environment with supportive adults.
Whether in lockdown or back in the ‘new normal’, the online world is part of life.
As we all know, it takes a village to raise a child, and here at eSafety, by working with children, young people, parents, carers and educators, we are continually striving to have the safest online village in the world.
To access the virtual classroom here
See more about eSafety’s guidance for parents and carers on unwanted contact and online grooming here