Story today about sex offenders targeting children via the internet: your views please

(41 Posts)
RowanMumsnet (MNHQ) Fri 20-Sep-13 13:30:43


You may have seen coverage today of the report by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (warning: upsetting material about sexual abuse of children) giving an account of their investigation into the sexual blackmailing of children by abusers using the internet. In some cases, the abuse and blackmail has led to children taking their own lives.

We (at MNHQ) have been asked to comment on the story, and so we'd like to know what you think. How worried are you, day to day, about your children's online activity? Do you feel that they are particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse when they're online? What steps do you take to protect them?

Do please let us know what you think. We've also got lots of advice on internet safety here if you'd like to take a look.


CogitoErgoSometimes Fri 20-Sep-13 13:49:27

I think 'exposure' to this is different to being 'vulnerable'. They need to understand a few harsh realities e.g. people are not who they say they are, they need some basic rules of engagement e.g. don't give out personal information, and - as with every other interaction - they need to know that they can talk to us if something has upset or bothered them. I don't think we can expect them to live in a net-free bubble.

quoteunquote Fri 20-Sep-13 13:52:05

You can not talk to your children enough,

credit them, ask them to keep you up to date with security, and use those conversation to add concerns, ask them how they plan to protect themselves, ask them if they see friends making mistakes,

encourage lap tops and other internet items to be used in communal areas,

be open yourself with computer activity,

all the teens and younger children I deal with, can always teach me something about computers or the internet,

Explain why they need to protect what goes into their heads, as brain bleach does not exist.

cosysocks Fri 20-Sep-13 18:11:51

I liken it to road safety. We teach our children how to stay safe outside, we don't let them play out, walk to school etc without knowin that they are old enough and responsible to do so.
We need to talk to children and have the uncomfortable conversations with them. The consequences are too great not to, how would you feel if your child was in their bedroom performing sex acts for a stranger and terrified of you finding out. Far better them to have been given skills from their parents to learn to question the Internet, understand their own digital footprint.
I for one work in an industry where I have the conversations with parents who have to face the consequences of their children being exploited and it breaks my heart to hear the dispair in a parents voice.
Educating our children to be safe is the only way forward.

ProtectiveMother Fri 20-Sep-13 23:12:27

The first thing I'll do is make sure my children do not have unsupervised screen time until I think they are of an age when they can fully understand what these predators are and are fully able to protect themselves from them.

charlotte42 Fri 20-Sep-13 23:48:17

We need to teach our children that the internet is both good and bad. Our children are living in the internet age. We need to let them know that they can chat to their friends on certain sites and that is ok, but otherwise, the www can be an extremely dangerous place. We wouldn't let our children walk into a room full of strangers, leave them there for a few hours unsupervised and then come back to them - but that is what these chatrooms are like! Supervision and education is essential!

Fuzzysnout Sat 21-Sep-13 05:40:28

It is frightening. It scares me how unaware parents are of what their children are doing online. As was shown on the news even teenage boys are so vulnerable to being duped into horrid scenarios and then being unable to find a way out.

Internet is a fab modern essential but there is way too much laxity about children using it unsupervised. Teen use is so much harder, but the key has to be constant talking to them (easier said than done) and much greater efforts by parents to educate themselves as to what their kids do online and the implications for them. We need to do more to protect even hulking teens. Never just assume or think things are ok because they know more about the technology or social networking minefield than we do.

SacreBlue Sat 21-Sep-13 08:08:53

This specific story is on images being extracted from the child and so is not limited to older predators online via a pc. This is also happening to a degree amongst children via mobile phones, so pc's in communal areas will not prevent the potential for harm in the case of a young person with a camera phone.

As PP have said it is essential for parents and children to have open lines of communication and, as cosy likened it to road safety, preparing them for safe internet/phone use from long before they have their own access to either.

I do think some media obsessions with 'wardrobe malfunctions' or similar is counterproductive as it sends the message that if someone has a camera they can do what they like with it regardless of your personal dignity. That is sending completely the wrong message to children.

WithConfidence Sat 21-Sep-13 08:42:30

I was thinking about this and the blackmail element last night. It's hard to understand why someone would voluntarily start making images of themselves for someone they don't know. Partly it must be naivety.

But looking at it from a young person's point of view, we put a lot of emphasis on sex being a grown up activity, so along with drinking, drugs and smoking, when young people are desparate to leave their childish self behind, they start practising with being sexual in order to appear more grown up. I think it's related to the 'Girls Gone Wild' thing of girls showing their breasts at concerts or snogging each other for positive attention.

So I think as well as internet safety we need to work on young people's self esteem and let them feel adult-like in other areas, taking more responsibility for making decisions about their lives etc.

thekitchenfairy Sat 21-Sep-13 09:13:06

CEOP came to our school along with our local PCSO a couple of years ago to talk about internet safety and how to keep our kids safe. It is one of the most useful evenings of my life and I wish more schools were able to do this... And that more parents had been in the audience!

Suddenly my boys are old enough to use the Net for homework and technology is all around us. while they may not choose to cart a laptop to their bedrooms a mobile or tablet etc is easier to carry and it is harder to monitor what is viewed, and who they are talking to, on a handheld device.

I think sexual awareness is happening sooner for our children and we need to work on our children's self esteem so they have the confidence to make their own decisions, say no to anything they know they shouldn't be involved in and to press the panic button should they ever need to. Self esteem is key as there are so many more opportunities for it to be eroded than when us adults were growing up.

As was said up thread, I talk to them about being safe online in much the same way we talk about being safe and aware on the roads or if they are playing in our local park and I think online safety should be one of the essential ongoing dialogues parents have with their children. And I think brain bleach explains quickly and easily why there are things we really don't want our children to ever see. Like those words!

Whether you live in a small rural community or a big city there is no guaranteed 'safe' online. the internet is no respecter of location and the world our children live in is ever smaller with ever increasing opportunities to interact digitally rather than socially. We can't just assume our children are safe, we need to enable them to make decisions that keep them safe.

tynecorbusier Sat 21-Sep-13 10:06:25

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feedthegoat Sat 21-Sep-13 13:01:46

I have had this brought home to me in the last few years as my bil is (to the best of my knowledge as we are no longer in contact with inlaws sad) currently serving a prison sentance for online grooming/inciting a child sad.

Obviously this will provide a stark example for ds when older that not everyone is as seems. For now he is young enough for me to leave it at the basics of you don't know who you are talking to and left it there as he is only online under supervision at his age.

It will no doubt leave me more paranoid than I already was having known someone heavily involved at the sharp end of child protection for 30 years.

skyeskyeskye Sat 21-Sep-13 13:20:28

I know of somebody whose child was in contact with somebody she met online. She was 12 and he got her sending him indecent photos and doing things on webcam. He was texting her all the time. He was 21. When her parents found out, they involved the police, removed her access to phone, computer, ipod etc and had to involve the school to limit her access there. The girl had counselling as she truly belived that the man loved her.

She even met up with him behind her parents backs. The police told the girl that the man was doing this with several young girls, to try and show her that he didnt love her, but she wouldnt believe anyone.

It went to court, and he got sentenced, but he pleaded guilty to a lesser sentence which meant that the girl didnt have to go to court.

The girl now 18, can now see what really happened, but for years, she blamed her parents for stopping her seeing her true love, as that was what she truly believed after the grooming.

Parents need to discuss these things with their DC, have full protection on computers and other devices to limit access and periodically check facebook friends etc.

Back when I was a teenager, the worst that could happen were people spreading rumours about a girl "doing it", nowadays, boys can take pictures of girls giving blowjobs, or in intimate poses and send them to all their friends. Teenagers dont realise the risk of this happening. or going online and using webcam, then being blackmailed by the threat of telling their parents if they dont continue.

edam Sat 21-Sep-13 17:07:58

There are some truly terrible stories about the awful things that can happen to children and young people online. ds's (primary) school has run sessions for each year group on internet safety and concurrent sesions for parents. Most useful stuff I remember from it was seeing the CEOP panic button and chat room for kids.

I showed ds how to install the panic button on our browser, and how to use it, and we looked round the CEOP chat room for kids together. They have loads of games which are fun for various age groups, that I hope really got the right messages through to ds about not giving his RL identity away online, being aware that people aren't necessarily who they say they are and what to do if anything worries him.

Also prompted us to talk to ds, make it very very clear that he can always tell us if he sees anything frightening or upsetting, and not to worry if he thinks he's done anything wrong - reassuring him that he can always tell us and will never get into trouble.

Someone I know with an older child said when they get to the stage where they are more web-savvy than you are, it helps if you can get them to show you internet security stuff and how to protect yourself/themself - they like knowing more than you but it educates you and prompts the right sorts of conversations. And gives you a clue what they might be up to!

morethanpotatoprints Sat 21-Sep-13 18:58:02

There is no way my dd will have unsupervised access to the internet.
If you don't allow it and don't buy and pay for the gadgets or connection then they are safe.
I really don't want to talk to her about paedos and how they groom young girls.
She is only 9 atm, but won't want her being worried about stuff like this until about 13 when she may be allowed fb.

mumfiftyfour Sat 21-Sep-13 22:32:03

Do you ever think who are the perpetrators of this behaviour ? They are not always single loners, but many who come before the courts are in relationships, some have children of their own. They are skilled at covert behaviour using the internet and hiding their behaviour whilst living otherwise respectable lives. Protecting children is not easy and we must all realise just how manipulative perpetrators are at exploiting them. It is so important that children are able to spot the signs and be able to advise an adult. Consider also covering webcams so they can not be remote accessed.

stantonherzlinger Sun 22-Sep-13 08:49:58

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edam Sun 22-Sep-13 10:24:02

morethan - you need to educate your dd. She may not have unsupervised access at home, but what about her friends? She will be playing on their smartphones/tablets/laptops soon enough. Certainly by the time she moves up to secondary school.

AlisonClare Sun 22-Sep-13 11:34:01

My children are in their early twenties and so this isn't really an issue for me at the moment - HOWEVER, as I listen to the radio and watch the news, it seems to me that almost every week there is a distressing news article about internet porn and children. Whilst acknowledging that teaching your children about internet safety and personal safety is extremely important, I do really really wonder about the society that we are living in - there is an ever present undercurrent of depravity/repressed sexuality/deviant sexuality and as far as I can see, the government is paying little more than lip service to doing anything about it.

edam Sun 22-Sep-13 11:36:45

what do you think they can and should be doing, Alison? Much of this stuff is hosted abroad so there's little our government can do. There are probably things they can do, but I don't know what.

AlisonClare Sun 22-Sep-13 12:27:05

Edam - I too wish that I knew what could be done.

i'm not frightened for my own child (he's young for one thing and even as he gets older my attitudes and experiences and line of work will mean i'm 'on the ball' and unafraid to tackle and discuss things frankly) i am more worried about my niece.

my sister is a bury her head in the sand type when it comes to modern technology - overly controlling about where her children go, how they travel, how much freedom of thought/expression/movement etc they have in real life and ridiculously flippant about online life and has given them ipods, iphones, laptops etc from a really young age in keeping up with the jones' type fashion.

this is the worst combination imo as it deprives children of controlled experiences of independence and street savvy etc whilst leaving them hungry for self expression and freedom and vulnerable to anyone who knows how to prey on that.

there is a weird scenario now where parents do this - controlling the physical lives of their youngsters to the point of suffocation and yet letting them have complete freedom with technology. it's the myth i guess of danger being 'out there' on the street and it's all safe and good so long as you know where they are (shut in their bedrooms with internet access allowing the whole world and all it's quirks access to your home).

my sister is also ridiculously narrow minded and dismissive of genuinely conversation with her children (particularly my niece) which is, imo, dangerously isolating. all i can do is remain open and willing to listen and keep talking to her and hope if she got into trouble she'd be able to talk to me. she's already had some disaster of naively sending a photo of herself in her bra to a guy she knows from church without thinking much of it or the implications and i hope she's learnt from what happened there (re: predictably the photos got around, school found out etc but shockingly the school told her off rather than addressing the fact the boy was effectively spreading child pornography in the eyes of the law).

it stuns me how naive some parents are and that so many are still actually willfully ignorant about the reality of their children's lives because they don't want to deal with the messy or awkward.

many kids are just as 'on their own' and out of their depth there as we were as kids.

JayPunker Sun 22-Sep-13 14:20:03

I think people just need to be open and honest with their kids about all things sexual. Nobody feels comfortable talking sex with their kids, but so long as they know they can talk to their parents regarding any and all sexual activity. That way, no potential blackmailer will have a handle, because they will just explain to you what is happening. If you're open an honest with them, explain that nothing they ever do will stop you from loving them and that you will never, ever judge them, it robs these predators of their handle

JayPunker Sun 22-Sep-13 14:27:43

That is shocking on the school's part. He faced no consequence, then? There was a case in America that disgusted me. A 14 year old girl sent her bf a nude picture of herself and as a result is facing charges of child pornography. That is shocking. This young girl faces being known as a nonce for sending pictures of herself to her boyfriend. I thought it was the children who were supposed to be safeguarded from this? Not punished for it. But yeah, just be like a best friend to your neice. If you can get her to keep it from your sis, maybe talk about some of your exploits in a bid to get her to open up about hers. Explain to her what guys are like, and how what the boy from church did is pretty common for boys, and that if she ever needs a friend to talk to about anything, you're there for her

yeah that's done (conversations). recently she's also witnessed my sister behave awfully to me and seen that it's not 'just her' who gets the unreasonable, nasty streak come here way so i think that has helped ironically.

the boy faced no consequences and the school felt calling my sister was their responsibility dealt with.

it stuns me how naive some schools are and how utterly unwilling they are to face problems in their culture and from my experience when teaching i know they totally ignore the legal rights of kids when it comes to reporting criminal behaviour. re: assault that imo should automatically result in the police being called and criminal proceedings gets swept under the carpet as kid stuff or such. the distinction about minors should come from prosecution decisions NOT imo from schools deciding not to bother to report stuff.

should say i was genuinely shocked about the school's lack of action on the photos. been a while since i worked in schools and i guess i was naively thinking they'd have moved on in the face of all the reports and research into sexual harassment and violence in schools of recent years.

clearly not.

though this is a religious (aka parent selective) school that rests on the laurels of having 'good' (re: middle classed and conforming to a religious communties outward values) parents and hoping to not deal with much of the real world.

morethanpotatoprints Sun 22-Sep-13 19:01:18


I can see why you would be worried about your niece too. your dsis sounds a bit like me, but I haven't given dd the lap top, I phone, pad, or anything else. Nor am I going to.
She has internet access and she is supervised at all times, although allowed to research and play to her hearts content without interference, unless she asks.
I think many parents are having to have these talks with children too young these days as like your sister many feel they have to keep up with the jones's or peer pressure.
I am not daft though, I know there will come a time when we have to discuss these things, I just don't think it is necessary at primary age unless you have bought into gadgetry.
Perhaps speak to her if you can, maybe offer to give your niece some tips on safety, would she go for this?

KarenRChenard Mon 23-Sep-13 01:25:21

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SatinSandals Mon 23-Sep-13 07:44:03

It amazes me that people are so worried about their child playing out with other children and yet they feel safe with them on a computer at home where the danger is really much greater.
You need to talk to them from an early age about the dangers. I think that morethanpotatoprints is quite wrong and you can't just leave it until 13 years. Unless they are with you all the time you can't know what they might be doing at a friend's house. You can do it in a non frightening way, it is all anonymous so unless they start giving details they are safe.
Have the computer in a shared space, check the history, make it plain that a cleared history will mean not going on the computer. Make sure they realise that people are not always who they say they are and that they never give personal information or pictures.
The most important thing, especially for an older child, is to say that if they do get in a mess there is nothing so bad that they can't tell you.
SwallowedAFly has a sensible post and I would say that her sister is typical, paranoid about the real life skills needed to go shopping with friends but incredibly blasé about technology.
Communication is the key, your children knowing they can talk to you, even if they have done something stupid like send a compromising photo.
You need to start young and certainly by 9 years old. I was a very innocent, well behaved child, but I certainly did things that my mother didn't know about! It is never 'simples' and that mindset shows the dangers.

alreadytaken Mon 23-Sep-13 10:19:12

IME the parents priding themselves on their excellent relationships with their child(ren) are often the ones whose child is sending or requesting photos that shouldn't be transmitted. Many young people go through a phase of doing this and it was starting at 11, widespread by 13 and may be even younger now.

I really have no idea how you stop this. Reading to them, or making them read, the stories of what has happened to some young people who do this may help a little but there's always the "it's just between us" without thought of what happens when they split up. We didn't allow a camera phone or webcam until they were old enough to understand the risks but that's virtually impossible now. You can monitor what they do and at least catch them if they are foolish but the mumsnet culture is against "spying" on your teen and you won't protect them without doing so.

Perhaps the best we can hope for is to educate children that when these photos get out it is foolish but not the end of the world and that the people who should be ashamed are those who give them a wider audience. This isn't always young men, they can have girls sending them images they don't want. Both sexes should be educated not to send such photos and to delete any they receive.

Incidentally I've just tried to look at the mumsnet guidance to see if it helps and it didn't really get me anywhere.

wishingchair Mon 23-Sep-13 11:45:02

I agree the "I'm going to leave it till they're 13" or "They're not going to have an internet enabled device so I don't need to worry about it" is pretty naive, but I have the same opinion of a lot of people's view on sex education ("oh they should stay innocent for as long as possible, they don't need to know these things").

If I count how many internet enabled devices we have in the house it would total 8. Eight!!! Not one family computer that is in the kitchen and monitored all the time. So accepting that I can't monitor everything they do when they're doing it, I have to educate them and do my best to know what they're doing. Sometimes harmless games can be risky ... DD had an app which was pretty much an online version of pictionary. Good fun. You could either play with friends via facebook (she's 10 and doesn't have a facebook account) or just with anonymous people online. As I realised this, I played it to see what risks there were. Lots. Someone drew a stick picture of a woman and a big tongue with an arrow pointing to what they called "vajj" (ffs). This was to depict the word "lick". You can also write notes to the other person. I deleted the app and explained why but DD was quite uppity about the fact I'd done so. If she'd actually formed a relationship with someone on there, it would have been very different. She thought I was being totally over the top.

It's a really hard one ... exposure to strangers is so easy. But burying your head in the sand and thinking you've got it all covered isn't the way forward.

morethanpotatoprints Mon 23-Sep-13 13:49:29


My dd is with us most of the time, there is no internet access at her activities and dc can't have technology there unless in their bags.
Her friends parents also supervise internet access at all times.
She doesn't go to school, so no problem there.
I think its up to parents when they think its appropriate. I don't want my dd to have to think about this until its applicable and when it is of course I will teach her safety. I think this will be around age 13.

morethanpotatoprints Mon 23-Sep-13 13:53:29

Wishing chair.
We do not have that many internet enabled devices for dd to access.
She has a lap top and is monitored all the time.
her phone is an old brick and we observe her using this, no internet.
She can't access anybody elses devices as they are password only.
Plus, she is too busy to want to bother atm.
I'm sure this will change as she gets older though as it did with her dbs

SatinSandals Mon 23-Sep-13 14:01:09

If she is Home Educated then I expect you can monitor at all times.
I still think that it is a mistake, if ever she does get into a situation that you can't foresee she is going to be in a mess because instead of slowly giving her the tools to risk assess you are doing it all for her.
It also depends upon how happy she is with that degree of control, those with very strict parents can generally find ways, if they really want to.

the thing is it's not just about when the conversation is a matter of urgency or real life risk relevant that's the issue - it is whether you've cultivated a conversation over years and years - whether you've cultivated a climate of open discussion - whether you've grown the conversation.

there's no shelter till age x and then expect to be able to have conversations about serious stuff that have an effect. if you are behind what they're actually learning you will be behind their credibility itms - as in by leaving it so late or not engaging in a progressive conversation about reality, sex, risk, real life etc etc etc from early on you cease to be the person/source/resource that they'd come to.

if you imagine consulting a newspaper or website as a credible source of information and guidance how many times would it need to be out of date or mollycoddling you or not telling the truth or engaging with where you're at before you'd write it off as unreliable and/or a bit thick or deliberately misleading?

i don't see how you can say this is the age for conversation x - surely your children tell you when the time is if you don't preempt that and lead the way? it's not a one off later on talk about 'internet safety' it's a constant, open, ongoing conversation about life and how to be ok and how to be happy and how to cope with complexity and risk and boundaries etc etc.

i don't get how you can see it as a discrete answer to a discrete issue at a discrete point in time.

tbh it's a huge ongoing process of acknowledging that the world has it's downsides, people can be unreliable and sometimes outright bad or dangerous and whilst we want to be nice, kind, polite etc we also need to have boundaries and a good antennae for danger that we're unafraid to observe and know the importance of.

that's not a 'conversation' that's a... commitment to parent your children for this world rather than some romantic idyll that you'd like to believe in. it's about producing safe, confident, realistic human beings.

i confess for me the whole 'shelter them, protect them, pretend everything is pink and sparkly and perfect and childhood is a separate planet to reality' seems like neglect to me.

ok last waffle i promise BUT...

can you imagine our ancestors out on the savannah saying you know hun i don't think we should tell little giles about tigers till he's 13. you know we don't want to scare him or trouble him with dark realities and after all we're mostly always around and maybe his innocence is more important than his physical, material, real world safety?

tbf i also don't get the whole shelter them from the so called facts of life and periods and reproduction and the various functions of their own bodies. am often baffled by posts on here along the lines of, 'what do i tell 10yo ds about why his willy stands up in the morning' or 'dd found a tampon and asked what it was what should i say'.

so i may be weird and way off track of the norm because i really believe there are very positive, simple ways of being honest and real without being cruel or destroying childhood dreams and i am baffled by the idea of homes where open conversation and questions and.... LIFE don't take place.

SatinSandals Mon 23-Sep-13 18:40:56

I agree, it is pretty scary to get it all at 13 yrs. I would much prefer a slow build up.

feedthegoat Mon 23-Sep-13 19:09:28

And if all the other posts don't convince you that 13 is too of the girls involved in my estranged bil's case was in single figures age wise and involved webcams sadsadsad

SatinSandals Mon 23-Sep-13 20:42:07

When you read the autobiographies of respected figures like Jenni Murray from Woman's Hour you realise that their mother's hadn't a clue what they got up to, and that was way before the Internet! It isn't realistic to live a protected 'Enid Blyton' type life until 13yrs and then suddenly broach the subject.

Gymbob Sat 18-Jan-14 13:40:52

my daughter is savvy and streetwise and her online activity was being monitored by me. I discovered she was being groomed. he was very handsome, called Jamie, was 14 and lived in Norfolk. of course he wasn't at all and the police became involved.

she was furious with me for months while she still believed he was genuine.

there were up to 60 messages a day coming in from him and they were all lovely and clean and sweet. it was just the odd thing he said that made me suspicious. he was taking his time and she was only about 2 months into the so called relationship with him.

the internet is a confusing place for many of my generation but we must monitor our children properly.

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