Urgent warning for parents after child exploitation quadruples in just a year
Authorities have issued an urgent warning to parents and carers after the number of incidents where children have been exploited has quadrupled over the last year.
According to the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE), an increasing number of children, particularly young boys, have been the target of online predators who groom, trick and coerce children into sending sexually explicit photos and videos.
Predators then threaten to share the photos and videos unless the victim sends them money.
In New Zealand, the number of victims of child exploitation has doubled since 2019, with Stuff reporting that 9971 reports were filed in 2021 versus 4739 two years prior.
The increase has led the ACCCE to take the “unusual step” of releasing police intelligence to warn parents and carers, as reported by news.com.au.
Hilda Sirec, the ACCCE Commander, said that although blackmailing minors for these kinds of images wasn’t new, it has been “very rare” for police to receive reports of offenders demanding money.
“Tactics vary, but child sex offenders commonly pose as girls and befriend boys via social media platforms, image-sharing apps or online games,” Ms Sirec said.
“These predators reveal they had footage of the child in compromising positions and demand money in return for not sharing the vision with family and friends or posting it online.”
Ms Sirec said predators often negotiated with the victim and requested multiple payments.
“We have seen predators initially demanding an impossibly large sum of money, then, negotiating with the victim on a lower amount they could actually pay,” she said.
“Once that money was paid - either by bank transfer, online game, gift cards or even cryptocurrency - the predator would demand even more money.
“They are not deterred by the age of the victim, they care only about the profit they can make.
“These offenders are very manipulative and they will threaten and frighten children to get what they want, including telling victims they will be in trouble with law enforcement if they speak up.”
Ms Sirec said these crimes have “devastating effects” on children and their families and stressed how important it was for parents to educate their kids about being safe online.
“We are appealing to parents and carers to talk to their children about online safety, how to recognise suspicious behaviour online and speak out if they have been targeted,” she said.
“If your child is or has been a victim, reassure them that it’s not their fault and that there is help available.
“By reporting what has happened, they may help us catch an offender and prevent other children from being harmed.”
Warning signs to look for
Australian families have been told to be on the lookout for several warning signs that their children could be at risk. These can include inconsistencies in a person’s online profile or language, being asked to continue the conversation on another platform after meeting, or a person claiming they cannot have a phone or video conversation because their camera or microphone doesn’t work.
Victims are urged to make a report to the police immediately, collect screenshots and other evidence, speak to someone they trust for advice and support, and bolster their online security by changing passwords and reviewing privacy settings.
If you believe your child is in immediate danger, call 000, Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000, or your local police station.
Members of the public are also urged to call Crime Stoppers if they have any information about people involved in child abuse and exploitation.
Image: Getty Images