Twenty-six Aussie kids have been rescued from internet sex predators in the past year, some younger than age five, according to official figures released this month.
The Australian Federal Police received almost 4000 reports of online sexual exploitation of children in the first five months of 2019, each report containing thousands of images and videos.
The incidence of digital grooming of children is “disturbing," say police, and parents are being warned to monitor their children’s online activity closely.
The Australian Centre for Counter Child Exploitation, set up by the AFP year ago, also found a high incidence of self-produced exploitation material. In other words, predators are persuading kids to produce and upload their own images and video. And the material in question is increasingly explicit and violent.
“Children are being blackmailed with what they have produced, if they don’t do what the offender desires them to do,” said Manager of Child Protection Commander Justine Gough.
Gough told the Herald Sun that while many parents think their child is safe online, online groomers have become “very savvy.”
“A lot of parents think their kids have grown up with this technology and they know what they are doing,” she said.
Children are very digitally aware in terms of social media platforms they can access but it’s their cognitive awareness that’s the issue.
“Some victims are younger than five which is an unfortunate consequence of kids being very aware of devices from a very young age.”
How does it happen?
Family Zone cyber expert Susan McLean explains that perpetrators prey on children’s natural desire to be liked.
Some pose as children or even celebrities to gain kids’ trust.
“Predators realise the internet is a simple way to access kids because so many are online,” she said.
“The reality is, a child who wouldn’t speak to a stranger in the street is the same child who would speak to a stranger online.
Children by nature are trusting and want lots of friends
Cyber expert Susan McLean
“These people are very clever and know how to latch onto a child by saying the right thing,” she said.
“We must educate kids about the reality of the internet, how it works and that these people are out there looking for them.”
Reports of endangered children are referred to state and territory police, who act swiftly to protect kids and prosecute offenders.
For top tips from an ex-undercover internet detective on keeping your children safe go to https://www.familyzone.com/blog/never-smile-at-a-crocodile-