The Internet is a great space and resource for children and teenagers, giving them access to a vast wealth of information. This new age of technology also makes it possible for children to be in contact with others online through a vast array of platforms, including social media, email, and text messaging. Unfortunately, with this vast access lies the safety risk of meeting with online predators.
Online predators are adults who often, in a sexually motivated way, approach children and teenagers online to exploit their innocence and inexperience.
Predators assume fake online identities and go on chat rooms, gaming sites and social network platforms just like everybody else. They will try to target young and impressionable people, often by “connecting” over their related life situations and speaking about their shared struggles or appreciation for things.
What are the risks?
The most obvious danger to come from an inappropriate online relationship is the chance of a meeting offline. The child will often agree to a meeting because they have learned to trust their online friend.
Even children and teens who don’t go so far as to meet the predator in-person may also experience negative effects.
They may develop mental health issues, because they have seen pictures or other content that they were not mentally and emotionally ready for. They can become depressed or withdrawn and begin to isolate themselves from their family and friends.
Online child trafficking
Online behaviour changes due to technology advancement, growing internet coverage and the widespread availability of mobile devices. One of the most emerging manifestation is online trafficking.
According to the United Nations, online trafficking involves three main elements:
THE ACT - Recruitment and luring the victims
THE MEANS - Coercion, abduction, fraud, deception etc
VALUE - For the purpose of exploitation, sexual exploitation, forced labor, slavery etc
Online traffickers also use these characteristics to identify their victims:
Online children sexual exploitation
Just like child online trafficking, child sexual exploitation has risen in recent years due to the rise of technology.
Child sex offenders are very manipulative, convincing, and persistent in their efforts to exploit children. They take advantage of the Internet and online tools to access, lure potential victims, produce child sexual abuse materials, upload and disseminate them.
What are the major threats to children online?
Experts have identified at least six areas of global threats that can further expose children to sexual abuse and exploitation online.
Child sexual abuse material
Child sexual abuse material (CSAM), the preferred term of choice to "child pornography", refers to the materials depicting acts of sexual abuse and/or focusing on the genitalia of the child. The term "child sexual exploitation material" (CSEM) can be used in a broader sense to encompass all other sexualised material depicting children. These materials include children of all ages, boys and girls and differ in level of severity of the abuse and acts ranging from children posing sexually to gross assault.
Computer/ digitally generated child sexual abuse/exploitation material
The term "computer (or digitally) generated child sexual abuse material" encompasses all forms of material representing children involved in sexual activities and/or in a sexualised manner, with the particularity that the material does not depict a real child, but rather an artificially created child, using digital tools. It includes what is sometimes referred to as "virtual child pornography".
Online grooming for sexual purposes
Online grooming for sexual purposes means communicating with a child over the Internet with one intention: to establish a relationship with a child to facilitate either online or offline sexual contact. It may include manipulation or incitement to take part in different forms of exploitative or abusive sexual activities, such as performing sexual acts in front of a webcam or the production of child sexual abuse material or self-generated sexual materials. It is to be noted that such activities may not be unlawful in certain jurisdictions.
Sexting refers to the process by which someone intentionally shares sexually explicit messages, images, or self-generated sexualised images of themselves. These images or videos are often shared with other peers. There are also many cases of "unwanted sexting". This refers to the non-consensual aspects of the activity, such as lack of consent in sharing or receiving sexually explicit photos or messages.
Sexual extortion, also called "sextortion", is the blackmailing of an adult or a child with the help of (self-generated) images of that person in order to extort sexual favours, money or other benefits from him/her under the threat of sharing the material beyond the consent of the depicted person (e.g. posting images on social media or sending them to family members).
Live online child sexual abuse or live streaming of child sexual abuse
In general, offenders watching the sexual abuse of children online gain access through middle parties. Sometimes these intermediaries are a child's family member or people from the child's community, who force or manipulate the child to 'perform' in front of a webcam. An agreement is reached on a time and date when the offender will log in to view the abuse using a platform that supports streaming live content such as Skype. Appointments can be made using chat messages, email or phone, with both parties agreeing on the price the viewer will pay. Very often, this will be paid in small amounts to avoid suspicion.
How to report online abuse?
People are obliged to report any belief or suspicions they might know of a child that is trafficked.
Exploited children may be placed in temporary safe care in terms of section 152 of the Children’s Act, pending the transfer of the child to a designated child protection organisation or provincial department of social development.
Parental responsibilities and rights in respect of children trafficked and violated online
If a children’s court has reason to believe that the parent or guardian of a child
or any other person who has parental responsibilities and rights in respect of a child, has trafficked the child or violated the child online they ma suspend all the parental responsibilities and rights of that parent, guardian.
Online predators pose a security risk for children and teens, and it is extremely important that youngsters and parents understand the threat, and how to deal with it.
The first step is being aware of the danger. The next is to know what measures you can take to combat the risk. Being educated on online safety is more important than ever.
If everyone – children, parents, and school communities, know the facts about online predators, and know what actions to take, great strides can be made in keeping children safe online.