My hope for change
I write this article with hope for change. As you more than likely know yourselves, there seems to be a major shortage of care for families affected by child sexual exploitation (CSE). A major difficulty in accessing services is that children and families are deemed ‘not high enough risk’.
I feel that the police and other support services do not treat online grooming and abuse as seriously as in person abuse. Victims of online abuse do not meet criteria for ‘actual physical abuse,’ unless they are kidnapped or physically harmed.
In my experience (and that of many other parents that I’ve spoken to) the perpetrators are not tracked down; their IP addresses can’t be shared and they don’t face punishments for their crimes, no doubt continuing to commit crimes against children.
My child was psychological and physically harmed by online grooming which caused on-going physical and emotional distress. Yet, this was not recognised in legal protections for her nor in the provision of support to deal with the trauma of her experiences.
There is a lot of work to do in the aftermath of online child sexual exploitation. Thank goodness for PACE for it was a lifeline. It is not only the children that are affected by child sexual exploitation.
The parents, or guardians, are the people who have to deal the aftermath and become a powerhouse of strength and knowledge, often gathering information and searching for services off of their own backs.
Families are rarely able to access after-care due to lack of resources, barriers to services such as ‘low risk’ or from parents / guardians blamed for their traumatic responses and feeling guilt and shame.
Children have become too easily accessible online, and with this increase of accessibility, there needs to be an increase of protection. The world is fast changing, and the laws that are here to protect us need to catch up and change with the times.
It’s 2022, nearly half of children aged 5 to 10 own mobile phones, according to a new report from Childwise in 2020, a research agency specialising in children.
At this current time, I believe that TikTok is the only app that has some real safeguarding in place with their guidelines. TikTok allows parents to link their own accounts to their child’s account and have some say over what their child sees. Parents can restrict who can send their child messages, or they can turn messaging off completely. TikTok also does not allow people to send images or videos over a Direct Message – and they automatically disable Direct Messages for users under the age of 16.
Why aren’t all apps operating like this? There should surely be a child protection policy that is in place.
Instagram has practically no child safety features. There is an option to set parental supervision, in Settings>Supervision>Next>Set up supervision, but children can remove supervision at any time. There is a privacy feature to make your account private, but it will still be searchable. They can receive Direct Messages from people they don’t know.
Instagram is currently building a child’s app.
Facebook has a ‘kids’ app, which has a Parent Dashboard feature on Messenger Kids. The feature allows parents / guardians to see who their child is chatting with, whether they’re video chatting or sending messages, and allows parents to view the images or videos sent for up to 30 days. Parents can also remove and report the content, and see if their child has blocked content or people. However, on the Facebook app for over 13’s, there are no child safety features. Although, there are some privacy features and you can make your account hidden from searches. There is no supervision option for over 13’s and they can receive Direct Messages from people they do not know.
Snapchat has literally no safety features. Any settings in Snapchat that a parent or their child may set to help them be safer can be changed at any time; there’s nothing to lock them in place. There is no supervision option for over 13’s and they can receive Direct Messages from people they do not know.
Article 19 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child states in part 1: “States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect, or negligent treatment, maltreatment or Exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.”
These rights of the child were drawn up in 1989. Almost 35 years ago.
The internet was invented in 1983.
Times change and the laws and policies have to reflect these changes and continue to enshrine rights. Governments have to do more to tackle this rising problem. It is not going away, and with the increased usage of phones, it will surely only get worse if things do not change quickly.
If governments truly want to meet their safeguarding duties in this changing world, I believe they should have the following policy objectives:
1. New Police Units, specifically for online abuse and exploitation.
2. Police to view online grooming as an actual assault.
3. Victim Support offered to all victims of child sexual exploitation, no matter the ‘risk threshold’.
4. Social therapy groups and child sexual exploitation specific therapies for affected children and families, no matter the ‘risk’.
5. Five year follow up plans with Social Services to affected families.
6. Tougher, Safer, Governmental legislations introduced for apps to keep children safe.
If, like me, you want to see these changes being implemented let’s join and share ideas and plans. You can email Nancy Pike (firstname.lastname@example.org) to voice your interest in attending a zoom meeting. Together we can make the changes so needed to keep all our children safe from harm.