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10 Ways to Protect your Child from Sexual Abuse and Exploitation Online

Generally, we expect the potential dangers online to come with a warning label or a big red X. However, that is simply not the case. The risks young people face online are usually hard to see, which is why it is so important that we make signs of danger easier to spot and avoid.

1. Parental Guidance

Parents who feel powerless in keeping their kids safe from online harm no longer have to be. They can make a significant impact on their children's safety just by overseeing where in the house digital technology is being used. Many groomers perceive the presence of parents as an increased risk of being detected. Keeping your child safe online can therefore look as follows:

  • Asking your child to be in the same room as you when using their phone.
  • Only allowing computer access in common living spaces.
  • Dedicating certain times of the day as common hours for digital use, during which the family uses online devices together.

2. Educate yourself and your child

What is child sexual abuse and exploitation? If you don’t know the answer then how are you expecting your child to? The basic way to protect yourself and your child is to know the signs of grooming, non-consensual intimate imagery and sextortion. There will be difficult conversations but we cannot expect that schools will cover everything from grooming or sextortion and online abuse. Making your child aware of the signs and how to spot them gives you and them the reassurance that they are equipped with the appropriate knowledge of how to respond to a potentially risky situation.

Starting a conversation on a topic you yourself don’t know much about can seem like a big challenge. Finding the appropriate moment to address a difficult subject can be hard. But it’s worthwhile knowing how schools and parental communities handle cases of CSA and CSAM. Creating a dialogue is critical as it makes it far easier to bring up these difficult topics in the future and to make us aware of current existing risks.

Tip: Teach your child to come to you for help straight away, instead of trying to work it out on their own.

3. Set Ground Rules

You have to teach your kids basic ground rules for using the internet:

  • Don't share personal information online, including your name, or location.
  • Don't accept friend requests from people you don't know.
  • Be kind and respectful to peers online.

It is critical to teach your child how to stay safe online, but it is just as important to teach them to look out for others in the digital space. Even though interactions online might seem different than offline, there is still a real person behind every screen. Online bullying can have the same negative impact as bullying offline. Teach your children to be respectful on the internet the same way they would be in real life.

4. Activate self-guards

While you can wait until your child is a certain age to give them a device it’s still like giving them the keys to a car and letting them drive without knowing how to. Knowing what you are giving them is just as important as when.

Check the security features on your family’s devices are appropriately configured. Check the privacy settings on their social media profiles; buy webcam covers for everyone’s laptops and PCs; and consider setting up additional parental controls on your children’s devices. But when appropriate, try to do these things together rather than simply laying down the law. Your child will be more likely to understand and comply with your rules if you make sure to explain your reasoning to them.

Tip: You can easily upgrade the safety of any digital device by using a camera cover.

5. Know your kids' online friends

Whether it’s a friend from school or someone they play with on 4chan doesn’t matter, a friend is a friend and it's just as important to engage with your children about their online friendships.

Signs of a risky friendship:

  1. They ask to keep their friendship private.
  2. They sexualise the conversation and introduce intimate subjects.
  3. They talk about sharing intimate pictures or exchanging sexual content.

6. Open communication without restrictions

This is a complex subject and if you think talking to your child about sexual abuse is hard, then consider how they are feeling. Talk about risks online but listen just as much as you talk. Remember they are likely to have more insight into leaked self-generated content than you do. Never minimise what they say. Whether or not you are concerned is not the point, if they raise something to you take it seriously. Often cases of abuse go unnoticed because the victims do not feel they will be taken seriously. It's your responsibility to take it seriously.

Try not to blame or scare your child about images they may have shared. This can be difficult when you’re worried about your child. But reacting in this way may exacerbate any feelings of shame and isolation they’re experiencing and prevent them from seeking help if something does go wrong. Keep checking in. Having regular and open conversations with your child about technology will let them know they can talk to you about their experiences online.

7. Getting help when your child is involved in the abuse

Are you concerned that your child is involved in potentially sexually abusing or exploiting another child? Get them help. This is not about covering up out of embarrassment or fear. It's important that they understand what they are doing is wrong and that they get the appropriate help to stop them.

Talk to your child about their responsibility to others online. Thorn's study showed that between 9% and 20% of teens admit to having re-shared someone else’s nudes so your child is as likely to be a culprit as a victim.

8. Knowing how and where to report child sexual abuse (CSA)

  • Online abuse is reported to your national hotline. Find your country here.
  • Offline abuse is reported to law enforcement.
  • If the abuse happens on a specific platform it is good to also make a local report.

Like most unknown subjects we are often lost as to how and when to start the conversation but it's worthwhile knowing how the school and the community of parents handle CSA and CSAM cases. Creating a dialogue makes it far easier to bring things up in future as well as make us aware of existing risks.

9. Potential signs of trouble

  • Secretive behaviour, like hiding screens when you enter the room or trying to go online outside of supervision.
  • Creating new email accounts and social network profiles.
  • becoming sullen or withdrawn.
  • losing interest in friends or activities.
  • displaying strong emotional responses after going online.
  • self-harm.

10. The "Talk": The difference between physical vs. digital sexual experiences.

Don’t just talk about physical sex, talk about digital sex and how content online does not reflect real life. Porn is prominent and the access that is currently available to young people online results in the average teenager having seen pornography by the age of 12. This desensitisation to sexual content is not natural and while sites are starting to build in age verification processes we are far from having bouncers at the front door of porn sites. Beyond being sexually abused or exploited online, outline the potential long-term emotional and physical harm to the victims, families and communities.

How safe is your child online? As a parent or guardian, knowing how to supervise your child’s online activities is difficult. Take our quiz now to learn how much you know about online safety.

It is well known that prevention is considered better than cure. Meaning that it's easier to stop something than repair the damage after it has happened, which is particularly important in tackling child sexual abuse (CSA) and child sexual abuse material (CSAM). When it comes to CSA and CSAM, prevention is not only about stopping something before it happens it is also about creating alternative ways to tackle the problem. Share this resource with your community and spread the word. Check out our additional resources here:

This campaign is funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Education and Culture Executive Agency. Neither the European Union nor the European Education and Culture Executive Agency can be held responsible for them.

10 Ways to Protect your Child from Sexual Abuse and Exploitation Online

How safe is your child online? Take the quiz now to find out.