POLICE are offering tips for staying safe online as figures show that almost one in five child sexual exploitation offenders first targeted their victims while surfing the net.
Child sexual exploitation is a form of abuse where young people are forced or manipulated into sexual activity. The abuser may groom the young person into trusting them – this can be done face-to-face or online – and they then exploit this trust for their own gain. Over the past week, Lancashire Constabulary has been running an awareness campaign to highlight the issue and the ways in which young victims can get help.
Figures from April 2011 – March 2012 show that of the 645 child sexual exploitation offenders identified by Lancashire Constabulary, 118 made initial contact with their young victims via the internet. This includes communication via social network sites, BBM messaging on mobiles, instant messenger and through online gaming.
Detective Inspector Hazel Stewart, Lancashire Police’s public protection team, said: “The internet is now in most people’s homes and it is estimated that 35 per cent of 11 – 16-year-olds have their own smart phone, while 41 per cent have internet access in their bedroom. This means that they can be secretive about their online activities and indeed we have seen a rise in child sexual exploitation as a result of unsupervised use of social networking sites and predators grooming youngsters via computers.
“It is important that parents, carers and teachers discuss online safety with children, so that there is less of a chance that they may be preyed on by people using the internet for these sinister purposes. It is also important that adults know and can recognise potential signs of abuse so that every effort can be made to provide help and support for the youngster and that offenders can be brought to justice.”
Safer internet tips for children and young people –
- Never give out personal details to online friends if you do not know them offline.
- Remember people online may not be who they say they are – use caution when chatting to people who you do not already know.
- Never arrange to meet up with strangers without an adult present who you trust.
- Think carefully about the information and pictures you post on your profiles. Once published online, anyone can change or share these images of you.
- Don’t open files from people you do not know – they may contain viruses which could damage your computer.
- If you feel uncomfortable about anything that happens online tell an adult.
Information about Lancashire Constabulary’s dedicated child sexual exploitation teams can now be found on the force’s website http://www.lancashire.police.uk/help-and-advice/child-sexual-exploitation or on its Facebook pages http://www.facebook.com/lancspolice .