Parents ‘blasé’ over online sex offender risk

By Alex Stevenson

Frustrated police officers have hit out at parents for not protecting their children from the dangers of the internet.

The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre’s (Ceop) chief executive Jim Gamble’s comments came as he launched Ceop’s 2008/09 strategic overview.

It shows the dangers of sex offenders using social networking sites to ‘groom’ victims are increasing.

In addition to offenders infiltrating these networks to collect pictures of young children they are also being used to assist sharing images.

In the worst instances ‘grooming’ has taken place, in which the offender lays the groundwork for meeting a child offline for abduction and sexual abuse.

“Some in the online industry could do more and we have said that before. But parents and carers need to accept greater responsibility and go beyond stating that they don’t understand this new environment,” Mr Gamble said.

“We simply do not see evidence of parents using the resources we offer.”

Ceop’s statement that parents “could and should do more” is clearly linked to its concern about the use of webcams when linked to instant messaging technology.

It has received nearly 5,500 reports in the last 12 months, almost half of which came from its unique ‘Ceop report’ button, which social networking website users can use to flag up instances of grooming.

In a third of grooming reports made by children under 18 the offender incited a child to perform a sexual act. A fifth incited a child to watch a sexual act.

“This is not about understanding technology or even necessarily the latest online service. It is about behaviour,” Mr Gamble added.

Ceop has made available podcasts and downloads of its strategic overview in a bid to help parents understand the increasing threat to their children online.