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Abusers are taking advantage of young people online, and we need to stop it

A photo of Sarah Champion, MP

Guest blog by Sarah Champion, MP for Rotherham

8 February 2021

Child sexual abuse is happening on the internet, and something needs to be done to stop it.

Social media can be a valuable tool for us all, it is a gateway to connect with friends and loved ones all over the world. However, the internet has the capacity to be a harmful and unsafe place for children, which is why I am campaigning for stronger safeguards for children online.

Research by the Children’s Commissioner found that 1 in 10 children using a private messaging service are talking to strangers and 1 in 6 girls have received a message from a stranger that made them feel uncomfortable. Roughly half of children using private messaging services are also sharing their location with people they don’t already know, for example through Snapchat. The potential for abusers to take advantage of young people through these online platforms exists and sadly, it is already being exploited.

Too often we think of child abuse that only happens to vulnerable children, but the online world means all children are at risk of sexual exploitation and grooming. Social media and messaging apps can act as a haven for child groomers.

Shockingly, the Internet Watch Foundation found that 44% of indecent images of under 18s they find on the internet are ‘self-generated’, meaning the victim uploaded or sent the image themselves, usually as a result of grooming. Children should never be punished for this, because the fault always lies with the perpetrators. The government must work with technology firms to find solutions so that grooming and exploitation is identified as early as possible.

We need to protect children from being groomed or exploited wherever it occurs, including online. Throughout my time in Parliament I have worked hard to champion change that prevents abuse and exploitation. I am pleased the Government have now set out its Online Harms White Paper. I urge them to present the Online Harms Bill before Parliament at the earliest opportunity. When this is published, I will work alongside MPs to ensure measures are strong as possible to protect children from abuse online.

Unfortunately, many parents are unaware of the severity of the threat facing their children. If your children have any social media accounts, two important things you could do is to ensure they have privacy settings enabled and talk to them about blocking any strangers who may try to message them.

Education for all is a key part of preventing sexual exploitation, which is why, I launched the Dare2Care campaign in 2016. Dare2Care aims to help us discuss how together we can challenge child abuse, provide information for parents and professionals, raise awareness and change policy.

I am relaunching my Dare2Care website today. It has blogs from experts, case studies and lists of resources to help children, parents and professionals tackle all types of abuse within young people’s relationships. As we wait for tougher legislation from the Government, Dare2Care is there to help provide parents and children with the tools they need to keep them safe from abuse.