Online grooming of our children has risen during lockdown with some exploiting the fact that more of our children are at home. What UTV has uncovered has now prompted calls for urgent new legislation. Deborah McAleese reports:
During lockdown, when schools were shut, police warned of a rise in the grooming of children on the internet. Europol statistics show that levels of online child sexual abuse soared across the globe by 106% UTV has seen an online chat between paedophiles intercepted by Europol during lockdown. In it they discussed how more children were online because of school closures. The conversation ended with "what a time to be alive". In order to see how easily young people can be targeted online Jim Gamble let us shadow his safeguarding team in Belfast as they set up a fake profile of a 14 year-old girl on a chat site. Within minutes of this profile going live a man began to chat to the fake teenager. The stranger claimed to be 17 and quickly turned the conversation sexual, asking the girl to send him nude photographs and to engage on online sexual activity. Again the content of this conversation was disturbing We showed it to one local mum as an example of how easily her children can be targeted.
Jim Gamble from Inque Safeguarding Group believes masquerading as a child online, without reasonable excuse, should be made a criminal offence. Because of the coronavirus pandemic large parts of our lives are being lived in a virtual world, But this threat to children and young people isn't virtual, it's very much real