UK & World News

  • 4 February 2013, 7:29

Paedophiles Targeting Smartphone Apps

The number of children targeted online by sex offenders with a view to meeting them in person has fallen, according to a new report.

But child protection officers say they are increasingly concerned that a growing proportion of children are being subject to purely online sexual abuse, caused in part by a new generation of smart phone apps.

The report from the University of Birmingham and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) centre also suggests some children are more at risk from online abuse than others.

Factors such as parental or carer involvement in a child's online life, as well as personal issues such as low self-esteem, loneliness or confusion about their sexuality can all play a crucial role in a child's online protection.

Children whose Internet activities are monitored and who have an open dialogue with their parents about what they do or see online are better protected from offenders and more resilient to the techniques they use.

Adolescents who take risks online by having sexualised chats or exchanging sexual images are particularly prone to the increasingly sophisticated and coercive tactics of online predators.

Peter Davies, chief executive at CEOP, said: "For a growing proportion of grooming cases reported to us, online abuse is an end in itself.

"Children may be targeted because of their vulnerability but any child can be a victim. What is apparent is that parents and carers can make that vital difference whether or not a child becomes a victim of these ruthless predators online." 

Six-out-of-ten 12-15 year olds now own a smart phone - an increase of 21% in the last year.

But built-in cameras and a new generation of messaging apps are giving children the ability to easily communicate and share images with strangers online.

The study found that instant messaging was used to make contact with children in around one third of reports of inappropriate sexual contact and that more than two thirds of parents of 12-15 year olds with a phone that can be used to go online do not have parental controls or 'filters'.

This compares to the one-in-two parents who have technical controls in place for their child's PC or laptop.

Claire Lilly, from the NSPCC, said: "The Internet is part and parcel of young lives and most can't remember a world before it existed.

"We cannot put the genie back in the bottle, but we can talk to young people and educate them on staying safe online just as we do about stranger danger or drugs.

"We are seeing a sharp rise in young people contacting ChildLine about being approached online, sending images to strangers or being exposed to online pornography.

"A new generation of smart phone apps are presenting yet more problems. CEOP are doing a great job in tracking down ever-more sophisticated offenders and technology companies are starting to improve their safeguards but this problem will not go away until everyone - ISPs, mobile phone companies, parents, schools and young people themselves - play their part in tackling it."

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