Offender: Don’t pay me and I’ll keep sharing (your nudes).
Offender: Block me if you want but I will share them to your contacts and school. So should I share them then?
Offender: Ok I’ll ruin your life then. Bye!
Teenage boy: You already sent it to people?
Offender: Cooperate and I will stop.
Teenage boy: I don’t even know what you want!!!!
Offender: Pay me. I’m serious. I can make big problems for you
Teenage boy: How much?
This disturbing conversation, between a child and an adult, is a typical example of what is happening to tens of thousands of children in the UK right now.
Manipulated and forced into taking sexual images and videos of themselves, these kids are unwittingly sending content to predators, who then blackmail their victims into paying them – or sharing further explicit material.
The groomers also distribute the images and videos as child sexual abuse material privately to paedophiles and to illegal ‘premium content’ websites.
It means that ‘one original incident’ gets turned into ‘1,000 different pictures on 1,000 different websites,’ according to Rosa, who works as an analyst for the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF).
The group, which was set up to help delete child abuse from the internet, are sharing some of the transcripts of the conversations between perpetrators and their victims in a bid to highlight just how rife the issue is.
Rosa (not her real name) should know. She spends every day sifting through each and every corner of the web, proactively searching for child sexual abuse material to get it taken down.
‘My job is to make sure children are not constantly revictimised,’ she tells Metro.co.uk.
The IWF reports that there’s been an alarming rise in the type of abuse which is happening to children in their own bedrooms.
This phenomenon – officially called self-generated abuse – is when youngsters are coerced into photographing or filming their own exploitation.
In fact, almost 20,000 children between seven and 10 who were sexually abused online in the first six months of this year recorded it themselves.
This is nearly 8,000 more cases of ‘self-generated abuse’ than the near 12,000 cases recorded for the same period last year. Meanwhile, since the UK’s first lockdown in March 2020, the IWF has reported a 360% increase in self-generated abusive images.
Last year was a record year for online child abuse, with 360,000 reports of potential child sexual abuse sent to the IWF and 252,000 confirmed.
Shockingly, on average, their analysts find a child being sexually abused online every two minutes.
Rosa explains how this terrifying situation usually unravels: ‘The first recording of the self generated content – the initial interaction between offender and child – typically would happen on something that has a live streaming function.
‘Kids are generally on these websites and apps doing the equivalent of pottering around but online, while predators are flicking through channels looking for children to exploit and treating it like a day’s work.’
Rosa sees different scenarios everyday, including children live streaming at sleepovers, where they speak ‘as if they are addressing their fans’.
Predators watching the footage then send comments, likes and emojis to start engaging with their prey, before eventually managing to turn the interaction sexual.
‘You’ll have seven-year-olds who are being asked to masturbate or to touch themselves and they don’t even know what that means,’ she explains.
‘You can see they sort of look confused or sometimes they’ll say: “But what do you mean? How do I do that?”
‘And that really hits home how vulnerable and how naïve they are. And of course they are – because they’re children.’
Rosa adds that while some youngsters clearly have no clue of what’s being asked of them, others behave in a more sexual way during these interactions, leading her to believe they have previously been exposed to adult pornography.
For example, she has seen multiple seven-to-10-year-olds using ‘very, very adult language’ to refer to some of their body parts.
‘I’ll do whatever you want, I don’t care’
In a transcript from IWF findings, two teenage girls, between the ages of 11 and 13, livestream to multiple viewers unaware that they are being groomed. The predator’s comments and the most explicit parts of the conversation have been redacted.
Victim 1: I hope that other guy joins [blows kisses]
Victim 1 shouting to family members downstairs: Don’t come up
Victim 1 speaking to the camera again: What do you want me to do?
Victim 1 reads a request: Maybe later
Victim 1: I’m nearly 12
Victim 1: Yeah I’ll do whatever you want, I don’t care. Not my boobs though.
Victim 1: Thank you [names different user]. Did you see my other pictures?
Victim 1 runs to to the door to tell no one to come in
Victim 2 (a 10-11-year-old girl) comes in
Victim 1: Hello people joining. Comment down below what we should do in our show. We’re gonna kiss first.
Victim 2: We’re best friends so it’s ok
Victim 1 reads offender’s comments out loud: Is she wearing a bra?
Victim 1: You all asked me to do this last time
Victim 1 speaking to Victim 2: Guard the door
Victim 2 shouts outside the bedroom door: Don’t come up we’re just changing for swimming
Rosa explains that many victims perceive their online experience as something ‘happening in the moment’.
What they don’t realise, she says, is that the offenders on the other side of the live stream are usually recording these performances to cut into pictures and video clips so they can be distributed as child sex abuse material for money, or as part of a ‘trophy element’ to show others ‘what they have achieved’.
‘Children are not sophisticated enough to know that someone could be that manipulative to exploit them in that way,’ she says.
‘In their minds, this is just happening right now, and when it’s done it’s done.
‘And that’s the really sad thing to watch because from everything we see, we know that the offenders have got something else in mind that goes beyond that very moment of interaction.’
Once perpetrators get hold of this initial material, children often find themselves ‘very out of their depth’, as this is when they have the leverage to blackmail their victims.
This often takes the form of the offender threatening to share a child’s pictures or videos with friends, parents and teachers.
Rosa adds that she has seen instances where groomers use their initial material to scare children into getting their siblings or friends involved in further sexual pictures and videos.
‘And it’s just horrific because those children then have to live with that forever,’ she says, adding that children wrapped up in this stage of the abuse are often seen performing while ‘visibly distressed and crying’.
Activists and campaigners working to end child sexual abuse online report that kids in this situation frequently find it difficult to speak to the adults in their life, as they are scared of getting into trouble.
Childline told Metro.co.uk about a 14-year-old girl who contacted them for help during the pandemic.
In the phone call she told them: ‘I am feeling sick with fear. I was talking with this guy online and trusted him.
‘I sent him quite a lot of nude pictures of myself and now he is threatening to send them to my friends and family unless I send him more nudes or pay him.
‘I reported it to Instagram but they still haven’t got back, everything is probably taking longer because of the coronavirus.
‘I don’t want to tell the police because my parents would then know what I did and would be so disappointed.’
Some red flags to look out for:
If you are concerned that your child may be experiencing difficulties online, such as having a nude image shared, here are some signs to look out for:
- Your child may be spending more or less time online than usual.
- Seeming distant, upset or angry after using the internet.
- Being secretive about what they are doing online or on their mobile phone.
As a parent, you will know what is ‘unusual, different or unexpected’ for your child’s behaviour and this is a key indicator that something might be wrong.
NSPCC Helpline: 0808 800 5000.
Source: National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children
Given the scale of the issue, campaigners say it is imperative tech companies to do more.
The IWF’s head of policy and public affairs Mike Tunks says he is hoping the Government will force companies to take more measures to protect children with the Online Safety Bill, which is due to be debated in Parliament once the Tories have elected a new leader.
Meanwhile, Professor Hany Farid, a digital forensics expert at the University of California, Berkley, adds: ‘The Government’s responsibility is to collect taxes from you and keep you safe so let’s do the second part of that and make these companies keep you safe.’
However, the measures activists are proposing often come with controversy from privacy groups and politicians who are worried about tech companies having too much access to what users are doing on their devices.
Professor Hany argues that people have been sold a ‘false choice of privacy or security for kids’, as he points at that many people allow antivirus software to scan our devices all the time.
‘If we are willing to protect ourselves then we should be willing to protect those most vulnerable among us,’ he adds.
Rosa, who is a parent herself, says the only way she can do the work she does, is to keep her personal life completely separate from her work life – which includes using a pseudonym when talking to Metro.co.uk about her experiences.
She also adds that she ‘feels good’ about being able to do something which goes towards protecting society’s most vulnerable.
The analyst agrees that technology needs to ‘play its part’ but says, ‘nothing is a substitution for a conversation and boosting a child’s self esteem’.
‘The most important and easiest thing to do is to make sure that the grown ups in the house are talking to the children about sex and what sex looks like in the online world,’ she explains.
‘So have that conversation about their safety, even if you have to bring sex into it. I know it’s awkward. But I’m in my 30s and these things just didn’t exist when I was a child and we have to get our head around that first of all.
‘Children also need to be taught that they’re allowed to say no. They need to know that they don’t have to appease people and they don’t have to go along with these requests.
‘All that all comes from talking and building relationships between parents and children.’
Rosa also stressed how important it is for adults to know and make clear that children are not to blame for when they are abused online.
What to do if your child tells you about sharing nude images online:
- Try not to shout or be angry, it’s important to remain calm and reassure them that you are here for them and that they aren’t alone
- Have an open conversation with your child and ask questions like ‘what happened’ rather than asking ‘why have you done this’
- Find out who your child sent the image to and if they know who has seen it. If it has been sent to someone they know, try help them write a message to the recipient asking them to delete it from their device.
- If the image has been shared more widely online they can use Childline and the IWF’s Report Remove tool to see if they can get the material removed from the internet, as long as they are under 18.
- If your child is being threatened you can make a report to a National Crime Agency Command – CEOP.
Source: National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children
‘If there’s a child who knows they had an interaction like this, they’re probably going to be feeling like it’s their fault and I think it’s really important to get across the message that adults are responsible for protecting children,’ she says.
‘It’s also very hard for grown ups to understand how this can happen. They think: “How can a child become a victim of abuse if they’re on their own in their bedroom?”
‘But that’s why this seems to be such a successful avenue for offenders – because it’s very hidden and very private. One child in a bedroom is unlikely to tell a grown up what’s happened.
‘Children who have had a live stream interaction or a one-on-one sexual conversation with an offender might not think of themselves as a victim. They might not think that they’ve been abused. They might not frame it like that.
‘They might frame it as : “Oh I’ve had sex with someone online or I did this to camera”. It might even feel exciting to them at the time.
‘So it might be difficult for them to get their heads around the fact that they’ve been manipulated or abused by someone.’
‘It’s an invisible problem,’ Rosa admits. ‘Unless you’re an offender illegally searching for this material, you probably don’t have any idea about the scale of the issue – but I can’t express the size of it enough, and this is what we have to change’.
If you want to know more about this issue, the IWF has launched a podcast series called Pixels from a Crime Scene with detailed episodes.
Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at [email protected]
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