Parents urged to warn children about risks of online exploitation

The AM Show 02/12/2019

Police are urging parents to talk to their children about online risks.

The warning comes after Newshub revealed there were 50,000 clicks everyday from New Zealanders trying to access child sex images.

Detective Senior Sergeant John Michael, who runs the police unit tackling child pornography, says the figure is "really concerning."

"Some of them will be legitimate, perhaps academics looking or even law enforcement, but the bulk of them will be people who are trying to access child exploitation material and that's really concerning."

Anywhere there are children online, says Det Snr Sgt Michael, there are likely to be potential sexual offenders.

"They will set up a profile just like we do on a social media site. In many cases their profile will either be wholly fictitious, or there'll be fictitious elements to it - in some cases they won't really try and hide their identity."

They'll seek to identify children and groom them online.

"That grooming in itself may take the form of trying to get the child to send them sexually explicit images or videos, or in some cases it may go through to trying to actually meet a child in person to offend against them."

He says sexual offenders online can be broken in two categories - those trying to access images of child pornography and those attempting to groom children.

Last year, 45 million images and videos of children being sexually abused were found online by authorities around the world.

Det Snr Sgt Michael says police can only do so much to combat the problem. It's up to parents, he says, to start warning children about online dangers.

"At the moment we feel like we're the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, because the problem is so significant. Parents have to start having those conversations with children a lot earlier on because we're giving our kids cellphones and mobile devices when they're eight, nine, 10 years old and saying 'here you go, off you go', with little or no supervision.

We really need to try and reduce that pool of potential victims.

Parents also need to be aware if their child starts acting strangely.

"As a parent you know if your child's behaviour changes. Perhaps that maybe indicative of something happening [online]."

Another way parents can step up is by being more open with their children.

"We've seen all too many cases where young children are afraid to talk to their parents and caregivers to tell them about something that's happened online and I think we have to create that atmosphere of trust where children can feel safe in telling their parent or a trusted adult that something's happening to them. If we can do that then I think we're going a long way to combat this problem."

And his advice to children is simple.

"If you don't know who that person is, just cease communication with them. It's like the old adage from the show The X Files - trust no one. And you actually have to do that on the internet."

The AM Show / Newshub reporter James Fyfe