Child abusers are increasingly resorting to online threats and blackmail instead of 'grooming' children, a specialist police child protection agency warns.
The UK's Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre said that online child abuse offenders are turning from winning their intended victims' trust with gifts and inducements, in favour of hacking into social networking profiles and email accounts in order to blackmail children into acquiescing to abuse. CEOP reckons the change is happening partly because youngsters are becoming more savvy about conventional grooming tactics, and more willing to report concerns to police agencies.
The increasing popularity of social networking sites is undoubtedly having an effect on the behaviour of online paedophiles. Instant messaging remains the most common area where grooming behaviour is detected (56 per cent of reports) with social networking sites following second at 11.4 per cent of reports, a figure CEOP expects to rise once IM messaging apps on social networking sites take off.
Growing use of mobile phones to access the net means parents can't control the child's internet access as easily as in the past.
"Parents can’t always keep an eye on what their children are doing on the internet, it is more important than ever that they have an open dialogue with their children about what they are doing online and to give them the skills to navigate safely in the online world as much as the physical world," said Jim Gamble, CEOP Centre chief exec.
"Parents can ask their child to show them around the www.thinkuknow.co.uk website and go to the age-appropriate sections or watch one of our films. Parents need to make sure children understand to keep their online friends online, only chat to and webcam with people they know in the real world and most importantly, know how to report to the CEOP Centre if there are concerns."
CEOP's latest intelligence report also notes an increase in the use of P2P technology to distribute images of child abuse as well as a growth in the number of images depicting the sexual abuse of toddlers and of sadistic abuse in general. CEOP also reports the increased willingness of child abuse offenders under observation in the UK to travel abroad in order to commit further offences.
A copy of the CEOP Centre’s latest strategic overview can be found here (pdf). ®