“You think your child is sat in the living room on their phone, chatting to their friends, but they could be in a paedophiles bedroom,” that is the chilling warning from North Yorkshire Police’s Head of Cyber Crime, DCI Matt Walker.
Smart phones and tablets have revolutionised modern life, and most of today’s teenagers have never experienced life without access to the internet, however parents are not fully aware of the risks of online grooming, police warn.
Last week the Harrogate Advertiser highlighted the issue of child sexual exploitation (CSE) in Harrogate and fears that it can be often overlooked as people think ‘that sort of thing doesn’t happen around here.
DCI Walker said: “People are wrong to think it isn’t happening here, it is and internet crime on the whole is increasing.
“Anyone can fall victim to internet crime, it doesn’t matter that we are the happiest town, we are just as likely to fall victim to a internet crime, perpetrators are indiscriminate.”
“Everyone has a computer in their back pocket, smart phones are how people connect with the world.”
DCI Walker said the generation gap between children and their parents ‘has never been bigger’ as modern teenagers have grown up with instant access to the internet and ever changing ways to communicate.
“Victims of CSE can have nothing to do with cyber crime at all but often people are groomed online to the point of meeting up in real life.
“Children are meeting people through social media, through other friends online . There are real serious concerns about how teenagers are being groomed on the internet. Parents need to deal with things like their children’s privacy settings and accessibility, not only for themselves but for all their friends too. If teens are talking to each other online in a group chat, it could take just one them to not have the right privacy setting to make it accessible.”
New apps for communicating are being developed at such a rate that police forces can struggle to keep up, and concerns have been raised about the security of popular apps such at WhatsApp.
DCI Walker said: “There is a lot of wealth in Harrogate, every household has a computer or Ipads or gadgets of some sort.
“Quite often Harrogate parents don’t understand what their children are doing online, on their phones, parents don’t understand how all the technology works and how to recognise the signs when something is going on with their children.”
In April 2015 a new law on revenge porn came into affect in England and Wales, meaning those who share sexually explicit images without the subject’s consent could find themselves in trouble.
North Yorkshire Police are thought to have been one of the first forces in the country to make use of the new legislation after a Scarborough man Alec Brewer, 29 was handed a 13 week suspended sentence after he shared intimate photographs of his ex-girlfriend following their break up.
DCI Walker said: “We have also seen an increase in the number of incidents of revenge porn, when someone shares something intimate with someone and then it is published online.
“Another problem we are seeing is sextortion, people give over intimate images to others who then make demands, threatening to publish the images or show the person’s family. We’ve had cases where families are paying them, it won’t stop them, people have got to come forward.”
DCI Walker said people have started to move on from thinking that threats on the internet aren’t as ‘real’ as the threat of crime in person.
He said: “When it comes to online crimes and scams, a few years ago people would say, it isn’t real it is all on the internet but that simply is not the case. It is just as real as someone knocking on your door.”
He added: “Parents will sit in their home and feel reassured when a PCSO walks past the window, they think their children are safe. You think your child is sat in the living room on their phone, chatting to their friends, but through the internet they could be in a paedophiles bedroom.”
North Yorkshire Police are working to break down the stigma which surrounds child sexual exploitation, encouraging victims and their families to come forward.
DCI Walker said: “There is still a stigma, people do fear coming forward, often because they are very private people and something has breached that privacy. I would encourage anyone to come forward. We can help make it stop.
“Teenagers are finding their feet in life, they will make mistakes and sometimes they won’t think it is a mistake but we have got to try and deal with it.
“CSE is not a new thing, it has been happening since the dawn of time, but people need to recognise the signs and do something about it, and realise the impact it has on people. Legislation has moved on.”
FACT AND FIGURES
- Around one fifth of all inappropriate images of children on the web were posted by themselves
- 60 per cent of young people have been asked for a sexual image of video of themselves
- 40 per cent of young people have shared intimate images online
- Half of all young people admit they have given out personal information online
- 56 per cent of young people said they didn’t realise stuff they put online could go further than who they sent it to
- 50,000 people in the UK were involved in downloading and sharing indecent images of children in 2012