POLICE have warned parents to be more vigilant over the ever-increasing dangers posed to their children by the internet
The national Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) revealed this week how children as young as eight are being blackmailed by paedophiles into performing sex acts or self-harm online.
Youngsters are tricked into appearing naked on webcams then the perverts threaten to tell the victim’s parents and school unless they perform increasingly depraved acts.
Detective Inspector Kath Vickers, from Cleveland Police’s Child Protection Unit, is now warning parents to be more vigilant due to the ever-growing social media access available to children.
Det Insp Vickers said: “Cleveland Police take reports of online grooming and sexual exploitation very seriously. However, everyone has a part to play in keeping children safe. Correct and appropriate use of the internet should be reinforced by advising children both within the home, school and while socialising about how to stay safe.”
A recent example of the perils that children can face is the case of Robert Hunter.
The 35-year-old from Middlesbrough was jailed this month after he posed as pop star Justin Bieber to persuade girls as young as nine to commit sex acts using sites such as Facebook, Skype and MSN.
He was sentenced to 14 years in prison after admitting 15 charges of causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity and 14 of making indecent photos of children.
Det Insp Vickers added: “Children are now far more sophisticated in terms of how they spend their social time and with this comes the need to be extra vigilant in terms of who they have contact with on line and who they agree to meet”.
Figures collated by CEOP show that over the past two years 424 children worldwide have been victims of online sexual blackmail, with 184 of them from the UK.
Seven youngsters – including six from Britain – seriously self-harmed or tried to take their own life. Another six children committed suicide.
Police are also encouraging children to tell their parents as soon as they become uncomfortable or suspicious of someone online, with the message “it is never too late to get help”.
If you are an adult worried about a child or if you think you have been the victim of such sexual abuse online you can get help by contacting the NSPCC’s dedicated 24/7 helpline on 0800 328 0904.
Or you can contact ChildLine on 0800 1111 or report it using the ClickCEOP button at www.ceop.police.uk.
Cleveland Police can be contacted by ringing 101.