Why online child sexual abuse must be taken more seriously_Insights_Asia Pacific Daily

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Why online child sexual abuse must be taken more seriously

Insights2017-11-07

Relatively little is known about the impact of sexual abuse involving online and digital technology. To improve understanding of the effects of this type of abuse, the NSPCC commissioned researchers from the universities of Bath and Birmingham to explore and compare how online and offline sexual abuse impacts young people, and how professionals respond to it. The report reveals some thought-provoking findings. While the research found that online child sexual abuse had the same degree of impact on victims as offline sexual abuse, professionals often perceive this type of abuse to be less impactful and less of an immediate concern than offline abuse. Professionals are also not always clear what is meant by online abuse. They may not realise the full range of technologies that can be used to facilitate it. They may also think there is a clear distinction between abuse that happens online and offline, without understanding that the two can be, and often are, entwined. This could mean they do not ask young people about the involvement of technology in abuse, nor offer them appropriate support after they’ve experienced online abuse. This study was conducted via interviews and questionnaires with children and young people who had been sexually abused online, and professionals from across the social care, health, education and law enforcement sectors, who work with affected families. On some level, it’s understandable that professionals don’t yet fully appreciate the extent of the impact online child sexual abuse has on its victims. There isn’t the same volume, range, or depth of research into it as there is with offline abuse. The NSPCC’s first involvement in combatting online child sexual abuse came in April 2006, when we helped fund the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, a command of the National Crime Agency. Technology and the online world have both changed dramatically over the past 11 years – we didn’t even have iPhones and Twitter then. A lot can also change in just three years, as demonstrated by the 250% increase in calls to Childline about online sexual abuse since 2014. In order to ensure we respond appropriately and offer the most effective support to young people following an incident of online sexual abuse, we need to first better understand what impact the involvement of technology has and support professionals to know how best to respond. Young people who took part in the study told us that when digital technology – everything from SMS to instant messaging apps – was part of their abuse, it enabled abusive strategies, such as: an increased ease of access to victims, lowered inhibitions, powerlessness, control of the night-time space, emotional and digital blackmail. They also described a number of ways in which their sexual abuse had negatively impacted them, giving rise to difficulties such as self-harm, suicidal thoughts, panic attacks, anxiety, nightmares, behavioural problems at school, self-blame and low self-worth. Some of the young people interviewed felt that the initial abuse had made them more vulnerable to further abuse by sexualising them, by leading them to drink heavily or take risks, or by reducing their sense of self-worth and confidence. Holly’s abuser used the internet and digital technology to blackmail her and force her to commit sexual acts against her will. The 17-year-old said: “He would make me send pictures of myself, very inappropriate pictures, videos of me in the shower, doing all sorts of things, and make me Skype him or use MSN to perform all sorts of sexual acts.” Many of the young people interviewed for the impact report spoke of adults in their lives not understanding the impact of their abuse. A high proportion of young people blamed themselves for the abuse. This appeared to be triggered or made worse by unsupportive approaches from professionals, school, peers and family. They also suggested that if adults had a better understanding of online and digital technology assisted sexual abuse, this could have enabled earlier intervention to stop the abuse. How adults can help: Through following these six steps, the children and young people involved in the study believe that professionals and the adults in their lives will be able to help them overcome the impact of the abuse they suffered, and also help prevent the same abuse happening to others. Provide good education on healthy relationships, abuse and consent from a young age. Ask, understand and notice. Recognise the seriousness of online sexual abuse. Increase support and make it more accessible. Increase sensitive and effective therapy. Improve the approach of the criminal justice system. (GUARDIAN)

Relatively little is known about the impact of sexual abuse involving online and digital technology. To improve understanding of the effects of this type of abuse, the NSPCC commissioned researchers from the universities of Bath and Birmingham to explore and compare how online and offline sexual abuse impacts young people, and how professionals respond to it. The report reveals some thought-provoking findings.

While the research found that online child sexual abuse had the same degree of impact on victims as offline sexual abuse, professionals often perceive this type of abuse to be less impactful and less of an immediate concern than offline abuse.

Professionals are also not always clear what is meant by online abuse. They may not realise the full range of technologies that can be used to facilitate it. They may also think there is a clear distinction between abuse that happens online and offline, without understanding that the two can be, and often are, entwined. This could mean they do not ask young people about the involvement of technology in abuse, nor offer them appropriate support after they’ve experienced online abuse.

This study was conducted via interviews and questionnaires with children and young people who had been sexually abused online, and professionals from across the social care, health, education and law enforcement sectors, who work with affected families.

On some level, it’s understandable that professionals don’t yet fully appreciate the extent of the impact online child sexual abuse has on its victims. There isn’t the same volume, range, or depth of research into it as there is with offline abuse. The NSPCC’s first involvement in combatting online child sexual abuse came in April 2006, when we helped fund the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, a command of the National Crime Agency.

Technology and the online world have both changed dramatically over the past 11 years – we didn’t even have iPhones and Twitter then. A lot can also change in just three years, as demonstrated by the 250% increase in calls to Childline about online sexual abuse since 2014.

In order to ensure we respond appropriately and offer the most effective support to young people following an incident of online sexual abuse, we need to first better understand what impact the involvement of technology has and support professionals to know how best to respond.

Young people who took part in the study told us that when digital technology – everything from SMS to instant messaging apps – was part of their abuse, it enabled abusive strategies, such as: an increased ease of access to victims, lowered inhibitions, powerlessness, control of the night-time space, emotional and digital blackmail.

They also described a number of ways in which their sexual abuse had negatively impacted them, giving rise to difficulties such as self-harm, suicidal thoughts, panic attacks, anxiety, nightmares, behavioural problems at school, self-blame and low self-worth. Some of the young people interviewed felt that the initial abuse had made them more vulnerable to further abuse by sexualising them, by leading them to drink heavily or take risks, or by reducing their sense of self-worth and confidence.

Holly’s abuser used the internet and digital technology to blackmail her and force her to commit sexual acts against her will. The 17-year-old said: “He would make me send pictures of myself, very inappropriate pictures, videos of me in the shower, doing all sorts of things, and make me Skype him or use MSN to perform all sorts of sexual acts.”

Many of the young people interviewed for the impact report spoke of adults in their lives not understanding the impact of their abuse. A high proportion of young people blamed themselves for the abuse. This appeared to be triggered or made worse by unsupportive approaches from professionals, school, peers and family. They also suggested that if adults had a better understanding of online and digital technology assisted sexual abuse, this could have enabled earlier intervention to stop the abuse.

How adults can help:

Through following these six steps, the children and young people involved in the study believe that professionals and the adults in their lives will be able to help them overcome the impact of the abuse they suffered, and also help prevent the same abuse happening to others.

  1. Provide good education on healthy relationships, abuse and consent from a young age.

  2. Ask, understand and notice.

  3. Recognise the seriousness of online sexual abuse.

  4. Increase support and make it more accessible.

  5. Increase sensitive and effective therapy.

  6. Improve the approach of the criminal justice system.

(GUARDIAN)

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