How do we protect children from online harassment, stalking, sexual grooming, and sextortion? It can feel overwhelming to have to safeguard children from the many harms we’ve heard exist online, especially when they are spending more time than ever in front of their devices.
It has never been more important to become familiar with the tools we have available to help safeguard children from harm online, and the 4C’s can help. We can use the 4C’s to both prevent and react to the harmful situations children find themselves in.
This is part 2 of 5 of our ongoing 4C’s of Online Safety series.
- The 4C’s of Online Safety Part 1: Protecting Students from Harmful Content Online
- The 4C’s of Online Safety Part 2: What is Online Contact Risk?
What are contact risks?
According to CORE¹, online contact risks manifest when a “child experiences or is targeted by contact in a potentially harmful adult-initiated interaction, and the adult may be known to the child or not. This can be related to harassment (including sexual), stalking, hateful behavior, sexual grooming, sextortion or the generation of sharing of child sexual abuse material.”
What are the key issues relating to contact online?
Online harassment can include offensive name-calling, purposeful embarrassment, stalking, physical threats, according to Pew Research. It’s also known as cyberbullying.
Grooming is the first step toward child sexual abuse. The predator builds trust with the child (and their guardians) in order to gain increased access to the child and ensure their silence about the abuse, according to Cybertip.ca. The predator builds trust by offering the child rewards such as money, alcohol, drugs, flattery, or using a false identity.
Sextortion can happen anywhere online, but it most often begins as a conversation between a child and a predator on online platforms such as Omegle, Snapchat, or Instagram, according to Cybertip.ca. The child is then persuaded by the predator to move their conversation onto a more private messaging platform, where the predator will then trick the child into undressing on camera. The predator then uses the captured footage to threaten the child and may demand money or further sexual images or videos, or they will make the footage public.
Cybertip.ca has seen a 62% increase in teens being sextorted over the past 6 months.
Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM)
CSAM is online content (which could be a video or an image) that depicts a child being sexually abused.
CSAM is on the rise. According to the latest IWF report, 153,383 reports were confirmed as containing child sexual abuse imagery, a 16% increase from the previous year.
How can you stay safe from online predators?
It’s important that children feel they can come forward to educators and parents if they experience harm or witness it happen online. Harmful contact violates the terms of service associated with the apps a child may be using, so parents and educators can check to see whether they can help the children in their care by either blocking the predator, or reporting a problematic player if it happens within a game. The same can be done for a phone number that needs to be blocked through their mobile service provider.
If you are concerned that someone in your care may be unsafe online, there are warning signs to look out for. Some signs that a child may be experiencing harmful contact include:
- New or unusual behaviors or ailments like recurring head or stomach aches, neck pain, excess energy or nervous habits (i.e. nail biting, hair twisting, thumb-sucking, odd or repetitive movements)
- Overreactions to relatively small incidents
- Reduced interest in social or extracurricular activities they normally enjoy
- Lack of self-care or neglecting themselves
- New or increased use of alcohol/drugs
To learn more about how to identify and help children that are struggling, download our whitepaper, Children and Mental Health — The Growing Challenge.
How do you stop unwanted contacts?
While it’s important to look out for the warning signs that something is wrong, we know that when it comes to student safety, it’s also critical that you have the tools you need to monitor and respond to potential threats like harmful contact quickly. onGuard identifies harmful content in real-time, and works both offline and offline to protect students, wherever they may be learning.
- Livingstone, S., & Stoilova, M. (2021). The 4Cs: Classifying Online Risk to Children. (CO:RE Short Report Series on Key Topics). Hamburg: Leibniz-Institut für Medienforschung | Hans-Bredow-Institut (HBI); CO:RE – Children Online: Research and Evidence. https://doi.org/10.21241/ssoar.71817.