Category Archives: Child sexual exploitation

Snapchat’s Snap Maps – Are you at risk?

Snapchat is one of the most popular social media channels for 13 to 17-year-olds*. For those who don’t know, it’s an app that’s downloaded to a smartphone and is primarily used for sending photos or videos which automatically delete after up to 10 seconds.

More often than not users add their friends from their contact list or use the ‘nearby’ function to search for friends.

adding friends

Following a recent update to the app, users are now able to opt into a feature called ‘Snap Map’. This is a live map which shows the location of you, your friends and events in the area. It is designed to allow more engagement between friends. You can also see local events though a heat map collating ‘our story’ snaps. The app works in conjunction with BitMoji and you can design what your character will look like on the live map.

It’s an extremely accurate map, showing your location within 10 meters, providing the opportunity for anybody who is on your friend’s list to see almost exactly where you are.

snap map

The good news is that you can choose exactly who you want to share your location with and it’s not possible to share your location with someone who isn’t already your friend. When you first use the map function you’ll see that you are automatically set to Ghost Mode which means you can’t be seen.  There are two other options allowing you to show all friends your location or you can select specific friends.

Sharing any personal information online, including your location, should be treated with caution on any application.

We would advise parents and carers to discuss social media use with their children, monitor their use and keep up to date with new developments and applications.

While there are concerns that the type of information being shared could potentially be open to abuse, the risks can be significantly reduced by users adopting a responsible approach by assessing who they share their information with and activating the facility’s privacy settings and ‘Ghost Mode’ function in their accounts.

Ghost mode

The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) has lots of information about the many different social media applications including Snapchat.

If you have concerns about something that has happened online, you can make a report to one of CEOP’s Child Protection Advisors, alternatively call police on 101 or get in touch with Childline.

*Statistics from 2016 show that 23% of their users were aged 13-17, 37% were 18-24 and 26% 25-34.

Who’s hiding behind those messages?

The majority of people use social media to keep in contact with their friends and family but for some it can be used as a tool to groom children and young people.

Children no longer know life without the internet and are becoming increasingly savvy when it comes to technology and the latest apps. However, the internet is also an easy place for men and women to make contact with young people by hiding behind screens.

What is online grooming?

Grooming is about building a relationship with a child to get something from them, like images or videos, to meet them in person and to later abuse them.

Online gaming, social media and chatrooms enable anyone the opportunity to try and make contact with a child.

Men, and women, from 18 onwards can create fake online identities and pretend to be children themselves to trick real children into chatting and sharing.

They’ll do their research before they make contact by looking at other things the child had posted and other social media sites they are on. They can then use the information to plan their conversation.

Those who want to groom children will use any sites or apps which are popular with young people. On social media they might send multiple friend requests at random in the hope that a young person will accept them.

In games and chatrooms they’ll try to start conversations with young people and then ask them to chat privately through a different app.

Don’t panic and ban your child from the internet or social media but it’s fair to assume that if a site or app is popular with young people then those with a sexual interest in children will try to use it to communicate with them. Ensure they are aware of the risks that come with speaking to anyone online.

While some people might persuade a child to meet face to face, it’s becoming increasingly common for children to be tricked or coerced into sexual activity on a webcam or into sending sexual images.

There isn’t one clear sign of online grooming but the following signs from ThinkuKnow could be an indication:

·        Have they suddenly become very secretive? People who abuse will try to stop young people telling their friends and family about the abusive relationship.

·        Are they sad or withdrawn but won’t say why? If something is going on with your child online it might be really upsetting them. They might feel trapped, like they can’t talk about it. Let them know you’re there to listen.

·        Do they seem distracted? We can all get caught up in ourselves if things are worrying us. If they seem unusually preoccupied it might be because things are weighing on them which they feel they can’t talk about.  

·        Do they have sudden mood swings? Mood swings are not uncommon in adolescence but they can be a sign that someone has built a relationship with your child which is affecting their moods. 

·        Are they unable to switch off from their phone or social media? Lots of us find it hard not to check our phone or the internet, but if your child gets particularly worried or stressed when they can’t, this can be a sign someone is controlling them.

If you are concerned about someone your child is in contact with, contact your local police, children’s social care department or report directly to CEOP.

If you want to discuss your concerns with someone call the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000. If you believe your child is at immediate risk call 999.

Are you and your family oversharing?

Have you ever stopped to think about what you or your family are posting on social media? The instant nature of posting and sharing means it’s incredibly easy to give too much information away, be it personal information, opinions or private photos and videos.

Oversharing can have negative consequences, including providing personal details to undesirable people and damaging your online reputation.

Here are some top tips from Internet Matters.

Are your children sharing inappropriate selfies?

Discuss the reasons why they feel the need to share such images and the potential long-term impact this could have on them if the pictures are used without their consent.

Peer pressure and the desire for attention can be reasons why some children feel the need to share inappropriate photos with friends and people they meet online.

Did you know it is illegal for a child under 16 to share a naked image of themselves? Just as it is illegal for someone to be in possession of one.

Encourage young people to spend time with real friends without feeling the need to gain approval by getting ‘likes’ on a photo they’ve shared.

Do you feel they’re spending too much time on social media?

Agree some house rules on when and how long children can go online and which sites they should visit.

It’s a good idea to give your eyes at least 30 minutes rest from the screen before bed. Don’t forget that young people are often influenced by their parents so ensure you’ve put your phone or tablet away too.

Are they sharing their location through apps?

You can turn the geolocation off to ensure your child’s whereabouts is private. Explain why it’s important that they never share personal information with people they don’t know online and remind them you are there if someone is making them feel uncomfortable.

Be clear that they should never meet someone face to face without your consent or you present. You never know who could be hiding behind the screen.

Have they posted too much personal information?

Talk to your children about the potential risks of sharing personal content online such as grooming or cyberbullying.

Help them understand how to remove information that could pose a risk to them and ensure their accounts are private so their shared information can only be seen by people they know.

Are they chatting to strangers online?

Is your child aware that people can and do hide behind fake profiles for dishonest reasons and the person they’ve been chatting to could easily be someone with bad intentions.

Show them how to block unwanted friend requests or to report anything offensive.

Are they gaming with strangers online?

Playing games online can be fun and might seem harmless but ensure your children are aware that gaming can also be a platform for people to hide behind fake profiles.

Consider using parental controls to limit who they can play with online.

Do they have hundreds of followers?

Discuss what it means to be a friend or a follower online, the pros and cons of having lots of ‘friends’ online and the importance of knowing that they’re people you can trust.

Have they shared embarrassing images?

Almost everyone has a presence online today or their own personal digital footprint which will be with them for years to come.

Maintain a positive presence online by encouraging children to think before they share. Messages, pictures and videos, even sent ‘privately’ could end up in the wrong hands.

Set an example and never post anything that you wouldn’t want them to see.

Are they at risk of being cyberbullied?

Children who are being cyberbullied often find it difficult to talk about it so make sure they know they can talk to you without being judgemental or getting upset.

Do they understand what they share online can hurt others?

Talk about peer pressure and how screens and anonymity can lead to behaviour that is hurtful. There can be blurred lines between uploading and sharing content because it’s funny or might get lots of likes versus the potential to cause offence or hurt.

Have they been affected by content shared online?

Show them how to gently challenge their friends if they find their content offensive. Remind them they can always talk to you about things happening online.

If you feel comments or post may be affecting your child’s mental health and wellbeing, seek advice from your GP. Depending on the seriousness, you might want to report it to police on 101.

Are they ready to share on social media?

Did you know that most applications have a minimum age rating of 13 which means the content might not be suitable for a younger child.

Carry out some research yourself about why type of content they may be exposed to.

For further information and advice, visit Internet Matters.

Betrayed by her boyfriend in revenge porn nightmare

Hazel was head over heels in love when she shared an intimate video with her boyfriend. She had no idea he would betray her trust just months later.

I will never forget the summer of 2013. I was 23 years-old. I’d not long split up with my boyfriend of 10 months and I was sitting in a park having a picnic with my friends thinking about my future and looking to put the past behind me.

I glanced down at my phone to see I’d been sent lots of Facebook friend requests. When I looked to see who they were from I realised they were all men, strange men I’d never met or even heard of.

It was only when I checked the messages in my ‘others’ folder that dread began to fill my body. The messages were rude, some unbelievably crude, strangers describing what they wanted to do to me.

There were also messages from men warning me that ‘my video’ had been ‘leaked’ with attached links so I could find it. I googled my name and there it was, page after page, site after site. In big capital letters all I could see was my name, my full name, accompanied with insulting tags. I felt dirty and disgusted. How could he do this to me?

When I first got with my boyfriend, I was infatuated. He asked me to do a little video for him for ‘when we were apart’. I eventually agreed. The video was quickly forgotten about and that was that.

Our relationship broke down some months later as I discovered him to be very manipulative. He said he would post the video online but I didn’t believe him. I didn’t think he or anyone could be that cruel. I even doubted that he was responsible when it did come out.

My nightmare continued over the next few weeks as the video went viral. It was re-posted by people across the world and I would have about 30 strangers message me every day. It took a long time but I contacted the websites directly and explained what had happened and to my relief, one by one the videos were being taken down.

Was I wrong to share the video with my then boyfriend? At the time no. I trusted him and never believed he would ever take revenge on me in such a hurtful way.

Would I send photos to a new boyfriend? I have been asked and I confidently explain why I’d rather not. I have only ever received positive responses. I am respected for that decision.

However, I do believe that if someone wishes to share such images then there should be nothing wrong with that, provided you are of a legal age and there is complete trust. The receiver respects and understands the consequences they can face if they break this trust and the law.

I’ve since campaigned alongside MPs for revenge porn to become a crime and in 2015 it became illegal to distribute a private sexual image of someone without their consent and with the intention of causing them distress.

It covers images posted to social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter as well as those that are shared via text message and carried a maximum sentence of two years’ imprisonment.

I’ve shared my story in schools and been shocked at the number of people who have not only sent or received images or videos but how many have become a victim when their personal images have been shared online.

Please don’t suffer alone. There is help available.

Snaps, sexts, nudes, fanpics – an insight into teenage life on social media.

Rebecca, 13, provides an insight into teenage life on social media.

“I’ve had a phone for two years now. I wanted one so I could chat with my friends. I’m now on Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest and Oovoo.

“I send selfies to my friends all the time but I’ve never sent a nude. I can’t imagine taking my clothes off and sending a stranger or even someone I know a naked picture. It’s just weird. My body is private. That’s not to say a lot of my friends do and they think it’s cool and normal too.

“My friend Lucy sends her boyfriend, and other boys, nudes all the time. She’s forever getting her boobs and more out. The boys open them in front of their mates, just like she does when she receives one, so we end up seeing private parts of girls and boys from across the school. Lucy sometimes gets upset when she finds out other people have been looking at her pictures but that doesn’t stop her doing it again. She thinks it makes the boys happy and it makes her feel good about herself.

“I’ve had boys in the year above me send nudes. They start sending pictures of their face and the pictures just continue until their revealing all. They try to get me to send them back. It’s disgusting to see so I delete them and if they keep hassling me I just block them.

“I also get random messages from guys I’ve never heard of. Asking me to chat and asking me to check out links to horrible websites. One of my friends was contacted by a French guy who’d been looking at the pictures and videos on her profile and telling her that he really liked her and wanted to meet up. We told her to block him. It was a bit weird.

“My parents were initially against me using social media, saying that I was too young but we talked about what should and shouldn’t be shared. We talk lots at school about what staying safe online and I feel confident there are people I could turn to if I ever found myself in trouble.

“My phone is a big part of my life and I’m never without it. I’m aware that there are dangers of being on social media but so long as you think about what you are doing and sharing, you’ll be safe.”

What her dad, Daniel, 48 says:

“Rebecca was 11-years-old when we decided she needed a phone. She was in Year 6 and had just started walking to and from school with her friends. Yes she wanted a phone but it was for her own safety that we bought her one.

“We set ground rules from day one. We’ve put restrictions on the phone so anything unsuitable for under 15s can’t be accessed or viewed. Other stipulations were that she enables the phone tracking at all times so I can locate her. Also, her passcode must be displayed on the fridge at all times so if we want to access it for any reason, we can do so.

“It’s shocking to know the things 11, 12 and 13-year-olds say and send to each other. I wouldn’t be surprised if Rebecca hasn’t thought about sending an image that perhaps she shouldn’t but as parents we can’t monitor her activity 24/7.

“It worries us as parents what could happen knowing that she’s got an online presence but it’s part of the world we live in and we’ve got to trust that she’ll make the right decisions but also let her know that we’re here if she ever needs our help.”

“I was very confused. I thought it was normal because I was ‘bad’.”

This is the true story of Kirsty who suffered emotional, physical, neglect and sexual abuse at the hands of her parents.

“My mother told me that she had a difficult birth with me, that I was a noisy baby and that she was going to have a large family until she had me. From when I was really young I thought that I was bad and that she hated me.

“On a daily basis, she would shout at me, swear at me and call me names. She would hit me hard around my head. I was beaten with shoes, wooden spoons, hairbrushes and knitting needles.

“As I grew older things got worse. I tried everything I could think of to try to get my mother to like me and become ‘good’. I cleaned and cooked to the best of my ability but she always found faults. She said I was ‘stupid, useless and bad’ and everything that went wrong was my fault.

“My dad showed his love to me since I was born but he started to sexually abuse me when I was five. To start with he said it was a game, then that he did it because he loved me so much. I started to block it out while it was happening but it was painful. He also hit me and hit my mother when they were arguing about me.

“When I was eight I started to get suicidal feelings and I attempted to kill myself. I was scared and on edge every day around my mother. When I was 10-years-old she started to starve me as a punishment I had to steal food to survive.  I started to get really confused. I thought my father loved me but he was going along with my mother starving me and hitting me. I was also confused to have a boyfriend who loved me but never hurt me.

“At 14 I just couldn’t take anymore. I had known about Childline for a while and suddenly something just snapped and I decided to call them. I went to a phone box and made the call for help. At first I couldn’t speak and I hung up. I did this for about two months and each time the counsellor would tell me that it was ok for me not to talk and that they would be there for me when I was ready to talk. This really helped and eventually I built up the confidence to just say hello and answer yes or no to questions. They were very patient and stuck by me until I could have a proper conversation when I was 15. Even then I wouldn’t give my real name as I was scared.

“I was also very confused as I thought it was all normal because I was ‘bad’. I started to speak to Childline regularly and they told me that what happened to me didn’t happen to every child and that it was not my fault. It took me a while to open up to them but I am glad they didn’t push me. They were so patient.

“I started refusing to do what my mother wanted me to do. This made her mad though so I began running away. I was abusing alcohol and substances, self-harming regularly and made several suicide attempts but every time I called Childline and they sent an ambulance and saved my life.

“I was referred to Social Services but they asked me about the abuse in front of my parents and that made things worse. After that I denied anything happened as I was too scared to say anything else.

“At 16 a social worker took me to a psychiatric adolescent unit. I thought I had help and was safe but I was made to go home every weekend and the abuse continued. I started to run away on Fridays or attempted to kill myself. I repeatedly screamed, sobbed and smashed up my bedroom in the unit. I self-harmed several times a day. Eventually, after four months, they stopped sending me home. In the end I ran away to a different city so I could be as far away from my parents as possible.

“During all of this time I kept phoning Childline and I carried on calling them until I was 18. They made me realise that I had the right to be safe and concentrated on making me feel that way. Knowing I could talk to them when I needed to was a real comfort. I often hated myself and wanted to die but they saved my life so many times. I would encourage any young person who needs help to contact Childline as they will help you through whatever you are experiencing. I am now fundraising for Childline to try to raise money to give something back and help other children get the help I was given.”


If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this blog contact Childline for help and support, free on 0800 1111 or get in touch online

Even if you’re not certain but suspect a child is being abused, please report it. If someone’s life is in immediate danger, always call 999, or if there’s no immediate danger but you need to speak to the police, call 101.

Alternatively, contact the NSPCC anonymously by calling the free 24/7 helpline on 0808 800 5000 online or text 88858.

I was so frightened he would hurt my family or worse still my sister that I let the abuse carry on for four years.

I was the envy of all the girls at school. I had a boyfriend who met me at the school gates in a flash car. I got presents of perfume and clothes. I was also the first to go ‘all the way’.

I was 14 and Chris was 30. He told me I drove him crazy and he loved me. He said if I loved him too then I would sleep with him. It wasn’t long before he was picking me up from my house and taking me back to his flat. We’d just hang out, listen to music, smoke and have sex.

I was happy, or at least I thought I was, until he started inviting his friends over too and letting them touch me and have sex with me. I didn’t know what to do.

Before long Chris was picking me up in the morning and driving me to flats all over the place, introducing me to men as old as 65. Some of them were on drugs and they hurt me. I tried not to struggle or cry as that only seemed to excite them more.

I knew it was wrong. I did try to make it stop. When I told Chris I didn’t want to he hit me. I even ended up in A&E once. He was clever, he never left my side and I didn’t get chance to tell the hospital staff. He didn’t always use his fists to hurt me. He threatened to send my parents the videos he’d recorded of me in action and said he’d introduce his friends to my little sister too.

I was trapped but I couldn’t let him hurt my parents or worse still my sister, so I let the abuse carry on for four years.

It was on my 18th birthday that something inside me broke and I packed a bag with some clothes, make-up and the stuffed rabbit my dad gave me when I was a baby and made my way to London. I didn’t tell Chris or my parents.

I slept rough for three nights before being picked up by a homeless charity and taken into a shelter where I opened up and told my story.

I’m still scared of what Chris could do to me and my family to the point that I haven’t been able to return home. I keep in touch by telephone when I can.

Chris didn’t just destroy my life. My parents are devastated. They had no idea that this kind of thing went on in the UK, let alone under their noses.


#stopmakingexcuses #youdeservebetter

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Real life story from NWG Network.