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E-Safety: Children Exposed to Abuse through Digital Media


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Definition
Risks
Indicators
Protection and Action to be taken
Issues
Further Information
Amendments to this Chapter


Definition

Information and communication technology (ICT) is central to the lives of children and young people. It is a key educational resource providing information, entertainment, music and films. ICT is viewed by many as a fundamental part of their social lives, for children, the boundaries between the online and offline worlds have become seamless.

‘Internet Abuse’ relates to three main areas of sexual abuse to children:

  • Abusive images of children (although these are not confined to the Internet);

  • A child or young person being groomed for the purpose of sexual abuse;
  • Exposure to pornographic or other material that causes alarm or distress via the Internet;
  • The use of the internet, and in particular social media sites, to engage children in.

“The term “digital media” refers principally to content that is published on the World Wide Web and communications that are conducted via the Internet or using mobile ‘phones. This content and these communications commonly involve one or more of the following elements; spoken words, text, photographs, animations, graphics and videos.

The range of electronic devices that can be used to create or access digital media is constantly expanding and now includes smartphones, tablets, laptops and gaming devices as well as music players, cameras and television sets.”

Social networking sites are often used by perpetrators as an easy way to access children and young people. In addition radical and extremist groups may use social networking to attract children and young people into rigid and narrow ideologies that are intolerant of diversity: this is similar to the grooming process and exploits the same vulnerabilities. The groups concerned include those linked to extreme Islamist, or Far Right/Neo Nazi ideologies, Irish Republican and Loyalist paramilitary groups, extremist Animal Rights groups and others who justify political, religious, sexist or racist violence.

Internet abuse may also include cyber-bullying (see Bullying). This is Cyber-bullying is defined as ‘the use of Information Communications Technology (ICT), particularly mobile phones and the internet, deliberately to upset someone else’ (DfE definition). For example when a child is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another individual on a social network site. It is a form of bullying which can happen at all times of the day, with a potentially bigger audience.

There is no legal definition of bullying. But it is usually defined as repeated behaviour which is intended to hurt someone either emotionally or physically, and is often aimed at certain people because of their race, religion, gender or sexual orientation or any other aspect such as appearance or disability. A single act (e.g., a nasty e-mail or an inflammatory text message) may be forwarded to many individuals over a period of time. The subject may feel repeatedly bullied, in part through rereading the e-mail or text message multiple times.

Sexting describes the use of technology to generate images or videos made by children under the age of 18 of other children; images that are of a sexual nature and are indecent. The content can vary, from text messages to images of partial nudity to sexual images or video. These images are then shared between young people and/or adults and with people they may not even know. Young people are not always aware that their actions are illegal and the increasing use of smart phones has made the practice much more common place.

It is essentially behaviour between children, although it is possible for one victim to be bullied by many perpetrators.

E-Safety is the generic term that is used to denote both the avoidance of harm and education to encourage young people to behave responsibly when using electronic communication technologies, it refers to raising awareness about how children, young people and adults can protect themselves when using digital technology and in the online environment, and examples of interventions that can reduce the level of risk for children and young people.

The chapters relating to Organised and Complex Abuse and Allegations Against Staff or Volunteers should be borne in mind depending on the circumstances of the concerns. The protection needs to strike a balance between the right to protection from all forms of violence, sexual abuse and exploitation and the rights to information, freedom of expression and association, privacy and non-discrimination as defined by the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other relevant international standards. That balance must be anchored in the best interests of children as a primary consideration, the right to be heard and taken seriously, and recognition of the evolving capacities of children and young people. It is unlikely ever to be possible to remove all the risks to children and young people that exist in the online environment [i].

The Internet is now a significant tool in the distribution of child abuse images and bullying. In addition to the abuse of the child in the images, adults use the Internet to establish contact with children with a view to grooming them for abusive relationships. Children may also be put at risk of actual danger by the online activities and actions of other children.

The Internet has also become a significant tool in the distribution of indecent photographs/pseudo-photographs of children. Internet Social networking and online gaming are used as a means of contacting children and young people with a view to grooming them for inappropriate or abusive relationships, which may include requests to make and transmit indecent images of themselves, or to perform sexual acts live in front of a webcam.

Contacts made initially on social media may be carried on via email, instant messaging services, mobile phone or text messaging.

Compared to 2010 children are now more likely to be exposed to hate messages (from 13% to 20%), pro-anorexia sites (from 9% to 13%), self harm sites (from 7% to 11%) and cyber bullying (from 7% to 12%). Children are now less likely to make contact online with someone they don’t know face to face from (32% to 29%) but slightly more likely to meet as online contact offline [ii].

There is also concern about the accidental exposure of children to inappropriate material via interactive communication technology – e.g. adult pornography and/or extreme forms of obscene material. In addition, allowing or encouraging a child to view such material over an appreciable period of time is a form of abuse. The Sexual Offences (Jersey) Law 2002 states that is is an offence for someone in a position of trust to cause a child to watch a sexual act, either in real time or an image. Children themselves can engage in text bullying and use mobile phone cameras to capture violent assaults of other children for circulation.

[i] A Global Agenda for Children’s Rights in the Digital Age
[ii] EU Kids Online


Risks

Children and young people vulnerable to abuse and exploitation can fall into three broad clusters.

Children who are sexually abused and photographed, by or with their parents or caregivers collusion, for the purposes of online exploitation.

Children and young people who place sexualised images of themselves online, and in doing so, expose themselves to potential grooming and exploitation.

Children and young people who are the victims of the peers who may assault them, photograph then and distribute the images online.

Child abuse images tend to feature children between 0 and 10 years old, Caucasian and female. Those who become the victim of grooming tend to be adolescents.

There is some evidence that people found in possession of indecent photographs/pseudo photographs or films/videos of children may now or in the future be involved directly in child abuse themselves.

In particular, the individual’s access to children should be established during an assessment and investigation to consider the possibility that they may be actively involved in the abuse of children including those within the family, within employment contexts or in other settings such as voluntary work with children or other positions of trust.

Any indecent image involving a child has, by its very nature, involved a person, who in creating that image has been involved in abusing that child; a criminal offence in law. Similarly children may be drawn to adopt a radical ideology through a failure to appreciate the bias in extremist material; in addition by repeated viewing of extreme content they may come to view it as normal.


Indicators

Often these issues involving child abuse come to light through an accidental discovery of images on a computer or other device and can seem to emerge ‘out of the blue’ from an otherwise trusted and non-suspicious individual. This in itself can make accepting the fact of the abuse difficult for those who know and may have trusted that individual. Partners, colleagues and friends often find it very difficult to believe and may require support.

The initial indicators of child abuse are likely to be changes in behaviour and mood of the child victim. Clearly such changes can also be attributed to many innocent events in a child’s life and cannot be regarded as diagnostic. However changes to a child’s circle of friends or a noticeable change in attitude towards the use of computer or phone could have their origin in abusive behaviour. Similarly a change in their friends or not wanting to be alone with a particular person may be a sign that something is upsetting them.

Where there is evidence of a child using ICT excessively, this may in some cases (although not invariably) be a cause for concern more generally. It may also indicate either a contemporary problem, or a deeper underlying issue that ought to be addressed.

Children often show us rather than tell us that something is upsetting them; non-verbal communication must be taken into account as well as verbal communication. There may be many reasons for changes in their behaviour, but if we notice a combination of worrying signs it may be time to call for help or advice.

Protection and Action to be taken

Where there is suspected or actual evidence of anyone creating or accessing indecent images of children, this must be referred to the Police.

Where there are concerns about a child being groomed, exposed to pornographic material or contacted by someone inappropriately, via the Internet or other ICT electronic devices for example a mobile phone, a MASH enquiry should be initiated (see MASH Enquiries Procedure).

Where appropriate, the parent’s permission should normally be sought before discussing an enquiry about them with other agencies, unless permission-seeking may itself place a child or young person at risk of significant harm.

Due to the nature of this type of abuse and the possibility of the destruction of evidence, the enquirer should first discuss their concerns with their child protection lead or line manager. This will enable an effective decision to be made about informing the family and ensuring that the child’s welfare is safeguarded.

All such reports should be taken seriously. Most referrals will warrant a Strategy Discussion to determine the course of further investigation or enquiry. Intervention should be continually under review if further evidence comes to light.

When investigating child abuse images, the Police should consider whether the individual might also be involved in the active abuse of children either online or in real life. The Children’s Service should assist the Police in establishing the individual’s access to children within the family, employment or voluntary activity. If there are particular concerns about a child or children then there will be a need to instigate the matter as a child protection enquiry.

The range of child abuse definitions and concepts that are now being seen in the digital environment has increased. As technology develops the Internet and its range of content/services has become accessible through a greater variety of devices that extend far beyond traditional PCs into the realm of smart-phones and handheld gaming devices.

As part of their role in preventing abuse and neglect, SPB works with its partners to raise awareness about the safe use of the Internet.

Suspected online terrorist material can be reported through www.gov.uk/report-terrorism. Content of concern can also be reported directly to social media platforms.


Issues

When communicating via the Internet, young people may become less wary and talk about things far more openly than they might when communicating face to face. Both male and female adults and some young people may use the Internet to harm children. Some do this by looking at, taking and/or distributing photographs and video images on the Internet of children naked, in sexual poses and/or being sexually abused.

Children and young people should be supported to understand that when they use digital technology they should not give out personal information, particularly their name, address or school, mobile phone numbers to anyone they do not know or trust. If they have been asked for such information, they should always check with their parent or other trusted adult before providing such details. It is also important that they understand why they must take a parent or trusted adult with them if they meet someone face to face who they have only previously met on-line.

All schools in Jersey have one or more identified members of staff with responsibility for co-ordinating the provision of e-safety training and for ensuring that appropriate e-safety awareness-raising activities are presented to children in school.

Use of Images of Children (photographs, videos, CCTV and web cams)

There are child protection and data protection/privacy implications in using photographs, videos, CCTV and web cams of clearly identifiable children and young people. There are serious implications in the use of images on the Internet, which may become viewable worldwide leaving the subject of the image with no control over its use. ‘Images’ include any image taken using any photographic equipment.

When using images of children, young people or vulnerable adults the following should be followed:

  • Always seek written consent from the child and parent/guardian or carer BEFORE photographs are taken;
  • If you publish a picture on a website, do not routinely publish a the child’s name;
  • If you publish a name on a website, do not routinely publish a the child’s picture;
  • Only use images of children and young people who are either suitably dressed or fully clothed to reduce the risk of inappropriate use. If possible, use over-the-shoulder angles that do not clearly show the face(s) of the child or children.

Further Information

See UK Safer Internet website and CEOP, thinkUknow website.

Behaviour that is illegal if committed offline is also illegal if committed online. It is recommended that legal advice is sought in the event of an online issue or situation. The following legislation may apply:

Behaviour that is illegal if committed offline is also illegal if committed online. It is recommended that legal advice is sought in the event of an online issue or situation.

Protection of Children (Jersey) Law 1994 – law pertaining to indecent photographs or pseudo photographs of children.

The following legislation may apply:

Article 51 of the Telecommunications (Jersey) Law: Prohibits the sending by means of a public telecommunication system of a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character; in certain circumstances sending false messages.

Protection of Children (Jersey) Law 1994: prohibits the making of indecent images of children including photo graphs and pseudo photographs.

Sexual Offences (Jersey) Law 2007 - Schedule 13. Any offence of attempting or conspiring to commit, or of aiding, abetting, counselling, procuring or inciting the commission of, any of the foregoing offences:

Section 6: Abuse of a position of trust; causing a child to watch a sexual act.

Section 2: Meeting a child following sexual grooming.

Crime (Disorderly Conduct and Harassment) (Jersey) Law 2008: Section 3; Harassment subject to reasonable person test.

See also: Digital Safeguarding (E-Safety) Policy.


Amendments to this Chapter

In March 2016, this chapter was extensively updated and should be read throughout.

End.