Hope For Children: Increased risk of online child sexual abuse

"Hope For Children" CRC Policy Center would like to draw the attention of parents and children to the increased risk of online child sexual abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lately, as a result of the restrictive measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, parents and children spend a lot of time staying at home and it is natural for them to use the internet more than before, either for educational purposes or as a means of entertainment and socialization. Both, the closure of schools and the confinement at home have undoubtedly resulted in increased use of Internet by minors.

"Hope For Children" CRC Policy Center, harnessing its status as Observer at the Lanzarote Committee of the Council of Europe for the Protection of Children against Sexual Abuse, welcomes and further promotes the statement by the Lanzarote Committee Chair and Vice-Chairpersons.

In this statement, State Parties are invited to ensure that children are informed of their right to protection against sexual violence and of the services and measures in place to achieve this goal. In this context, State Parties are encouraged to promote hotlines and helplines and make sure that they are known to both the public and children using child friendly approach for the later.

Awareness raising material developed by the Council of Europe can be reached at the following link: www.coe.int/en/web/children/covid-19

In this statement, it is stressed that: "As we fight the COVID-19 pandemic, we should remember that violence against children is another pandemic that makes millions of victims. Let’s fight together both"

The original statement can be reached at the following link: https://rm.coe.int/covid-19-lc-statement-en-final/16809e17ae

In the meanwhile, various other institutions and organizations (NCA, IWF, Europol, ICCSAI, NSPCC) and the Cyprus Police have recently published reports claiming that the restrictive measures due to the corona virus epidemic may lead to the increase of the phenomenon of online sexual abuse. The fact that more children use the Internet for longer periods of time increases the risk of their exposure to sexual abuse behaviors. On the other hand, the perpetrators of such crimes have more opportunities to take advantage of this increased online exposure of minors, as well as the feelings of loneliness and anxiety that the minors may feel because of this confinement at home.

The online sexual abuse includes exposure to sexual material or encouraging a minor to get involved in sexual activities, such as sending videos and photographs. Something, which often happens, is the sexual solicitation of children for sexual purposes, the approach and invitation of a child to get involved in sexual discussion and/or action using various pretexts such as the existence of an apparent love affair, bullying, bribery or a challenge which has as an aim the acceptance of a minor into a social group or the acceptance of a minor by a person who is very important to the child. Such phenomena are not only met in the relationship between an adult and a child but also very often met in the relationships between teenagers.

Message to parents:

We realize that this last period of time has caused many changes in your daily life. The adjustment to this new routine inevitably includes the use of Internet, either for communication and social interaction purposes, or for entertainment. Despite all these, we must recognize the dangers and risks that may be hidden. It is very important to have frequent discussions with your child as to how he/she spends time online, while at the same time showing him/her that you trust them. It is also very important for the child to know that he/she can come to talk to you about anything that concerns and worries him/her, assuring him/her that no concern or worry is insignificant and trivial.

Message to children:

You spend a lot of time at home. You need to see your friends and to have fun. Internet can be a solution during this time of confinement. However, even through the Internet someone can make you feel uncomfortable, ashamed, angry and sad, either because he/she asked you to do something you did not want to do or because he/she asked you strange and personal questions or maybe something else. You may feel alone at home but you are not. Do not hesitate to talk to your parents about it and ask for their help. They know how to help you. You can also call 22103234 or text us through our online chat at www.uncrcpc.org.cy, operating on a 24hour basis, where someone who is expert about these issues will be able to guide you.

Addressed to all, we realize that going through this period and because of the confinement, there may be hesitation and doubt as to whether these incidents should be reported to the competent authorities. That is why we need to emphasize how the services that handle such cases are available and in any case someone knows or suspects sexual abuse of a minor he/she must report it to the relevant authority (Cyprus Police or Social Welfare Services).

At the same time, the professionals of Hope For Children and of the public services in the Children’s House continue working to ensure that every child is protected from such exposure.

For more information you can contact us on 22103234 on a 24hour basis.