HUNDREDS and potentially thousands of British young people have been victims of sexual abuse instigated online, an expert has warned.

Victims are often pursued to devastating effect and many become suicidal, said Jonathan Baggaley, head of education at the Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre (CEOP).
CEOP urges parents and carers to talk to their children about such crimes and encourage victims to come forward.

Mr Baggaley said online sexual abuse typically begins when an offender makes contact with a young person online or on their mobile phone, then tricks the young person into sending an indecent picture, appearing naked or performing sexual acts on webcam.

Offenders might pretend to be a girl or boy of the same age, pretend to be someone the child knows, flirting or sending sexual pictures or videos. The offender records the footage then threatens to share it with the young person’s friends or family if they don’t perform more sexual acts. Some young people have been threatened for money or told to hurt themselves.

Mr Baggaley said: “This has happened to hundreds, potentially thousands, of young people in this country. This is sexual abuse. The emotional impact can be devastating. A number of young people have attempted suicide as a result of finding themselves in this situation.”
He said most young people used the internet without coming to harm and encouraged parents to take an interest in their children’s life online.

CEOP says: “Your response as a parent will be crucial in helping them cope. It is important to take it very seriously whilst reacting calmly. When a child tells a parent they have experienced sexual abuse parents should:

  • Believe their child and tell them that they believe them
  • Not blame them for the abuse they have suffered.
  • Tell them it’s not their fault. Even if they have engaged in risky behaviour, the only person responsible is the offender.
  • Not display anger or rejection – even if they are feeling these things parents should work through them in a separate place
  • Talk to their child about how they feel and let them know that they’re here to listen.
  • Report to CEOP, which is a command of the National Crime Agency, and is dedicated to tackling the sexual abuse and exploitation of children and young people.

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