I have been involved in policing and the anti-trafficking and child exploitation sector for nearly 17 years. Over that time I have seen a dramatic increase in the number of people abusing children. But what really concerns me the most is the increasing use of the Internet to abuse children.
Unfortunately, the work I am involved in exposes me to a world that many people in society are either oblivious to or choose to be naive about.
I’m talking about online child abuse, in particular child pornography.
I often tell friends and family to be extremely careful with what material they upload onto the Internet, especially pictures of their children. I shake my head at friends and family who still to this day, after my advice, upload images of their children onto the Internet. Uploading images onto sites like Facebook, Twitter and other media sharing platforms, of children in the swimming pool or having a bath or in any situation that children may be compromised can expose your child to predators.
You might be saying to yourself that I am being over the top or fear mongering. Well I wish I could say I was. The reality is, the Internet is a cesspool for predators who prey on children.
Online child abuse does not just involve predators trolling the Internet, searching for unsuspecting children to befriend and take advantage of. There is another sinister world, the world where pedophiles and child sex offenders search for images of children and use those images on their own media sharing platforms. The images of your children that you upload onto the Internet, even though they are done so in an innocent manner are susceptible to misuse by predators. Go onto Facebook, open someone’s profile, find an image, right click the image and save the image to your desktop. It is now yours to do with what you please.
Only last week, the British Police announced that they had conducted an operation and arrested 660 pedophiles. Doctors, care workers, teachers and people from all walks of life, investigated and charged for viewing and being in possession of indecent images of children. Many of the people arrested were found in possession of images of children on their computers. Sadly, many of the victims will never be identified. One pedophile, a Doctor, was found in possession of over 1 million images of children.
In 2005 I conducted a study on behalf of a well known tech company, where I was asked to investigate the amount of child pornography being viewed by people in Internet cafes in Cambodia. I targeted over 200 Internet cafes in Cambodia – Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Sihanoukville and Poipet provinces, covertly copying all of the files on Internet cafe computers and analysing these files to see what was being viewed. The results were gob smacking.
I identified web-links that were related to child pornography, images of children naked and being indecently abused, and other media that was linked to pedophile controlled servers. Even I, an 8 year police officer could not believe how many child pornographic images and web references to child abuse I identified from the computers in the Internet cafes. (The material I seized was passed onto various policing authorities around the world for further investigation).
But what angers me most is the ease at which child pornography and media showing child abuse can be viewed and obtained on the Internet. Companies like Google, in my opinion, have a lot to answer for. There must be an onus placed on companies like Google and a demand for them to show a duty of care to children who may be exposed and abused on the Internet.
It is not acceptable in my opinion that Google and the Internet can just say that it is not their responsibility to protect children, that it is not their responsibility to control child pornography on the Internet and it is not their responsibility if individuals use the Internet to source child pornography.
In short, child pornography or any media that makes reference to children being abused should not be accessible on the Internet and if there is any material identified, it should be removed or blocked immediately. Unfortunately this is not occurring.
Until such time as the Internet receives more international regulation and more controls are placed on companies like Google, our children are extremely vulnerable to predators looking to abuse children on the Internet, and it is your responsibility as parents to ensure that you are doing everything you can to protect your children from online abuse.