AFP launches seven days of online safety as students return to school
Editor's note: Audio from AFP Commander Hilda Sirec is available to download.
AFP will release seven days of back-to-school safety tips to help keep parents and students stay a step ahead of online predators, some who are posing as children to extract sexually explicit images.
Starting or returning to school is an exciting time for parents and pupils, and for many students it is the first time they will receive their own tablets or mobile phones.
Technology and devices are an important part of children's learning and engagement, so from today until Thursday, 3 February, the AFP-led Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE) and ThinkUKnow program will outline how to stay safe online, how to recognise predatory sexual and grooming behaviour, and how to report suspicious behaviour and abuse.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ACCCE has identified more than 800,000 registered accounts using anonymised platforms such as the dark web and encrypted apps, solely to facilitate child abuse material.
The AFP, with domestic and international law enforcement agencies, are committed to disrupting and charging offenders targeting children.
Minister for Home Affairs Karen Andrews said cyber security and the protection of children online were among the Government's highest priorities.
"The Government is serious about protecting children online - but we all have a role to play. The tips, warnings, and information the AFP is releasing this week are vitally important for parents, carers, teachers and others. Together, we can keep our children safe."
Today, on Day 1 of Back-to-School online safety, the focus is on catfishing, in which predators can create online social media personas of children or celebrities in a bid to make it easier for them to contact children.
The predator may invent a new identity or assume the identity of a child who already has a social media presence, using images and details they find online to make it more convincing.
Once they have built a rapport with children, online predators can often groom victims and coerce them into providing sexually explicit material.
Earlier this month (January 2022), a man pleaded guilty to 25 charges in the Melbourne County Court following an investigation by the AFP Victorian Joint Anti Child Exploitation Team, in which the man was found to have posed as a young teenager to gain the trust of victims in Australia and overseas.
He is due to be sentenced in February 2022.
In May 2020, a Sydney man was jailed after an AFP investigation found he had targeted 48 children using this method, posing as a young girl to illicit images from children.
After a joint AFP investigation with Western Australian Police Force, a man is before the court facing 312 charges for similar alleged offences involving 285 alleged victims in Australia and other countries.
AFP Commander for the ACCCE Hilda Sirec encouraged parents and carers to educate their children about the dangers of sharing personal details and private photos with people online.
"It's perfectly natural for kids and young teens to wish to interact with people their own age online, but predators prey upon this to gain access to children, and can pose as children themselves," Commander Sirec said.
"With the start of the school year many students will be connecting with each other on social media for the first time, making it a good time to remind kids to ensure they know who they are adding online and for parents or guardians to talk with their children about safe ways to use their devices."
Top tips for parents and carers
- Keep your child's personal information including full name and age private
- Ensure the background of photos or videos doesn't give away your address or location, (and don't post your location or 'check in')
- Avoid posting photos in school uniform
- Only share images of your children with people you know and trust
- For community accounts, consider having a closed group with approved members and ensure you have strong privacy settings in place.
How to report online child abuse
- If you believe a child is in imminent danger, call police Triple Zero (000) or visit your local police station.
- If your child is experiencing issues online, it is essential to collect evidence - taking screenshots or photos of the content. Once you have collected your evidence, block and report on the app, site or platform where the issue occurred.
Online child sexual exploitation can be reported to the ACCCE or to call Crime stoppers on 1800 333 000.
If you or someone you know are impacted by child sexual abuse and online exploitation there are support services available, visit the ACCCE to learn more.
Advice and support for parents and carers about how they can help protection children online can be found at ThinkUKnow, an AFP-led education program designed to prevent online child sexual exploitation.
Parents and carers can also find an extensive range of information and support to help them keep children safe online at the eSafety website.
Research conducted by the ACCCE in 2020 revealed only about half of parents talked to their children about online safety.
Fifty per cent of parents don't know what to do to keep their kids safe online. Just 3 per cent of parents are concerned about online grooming. And sadly, most believe online child sexual exploitation is too repulsive to even think about.
A podcast launched last year by the ACCCE 'Closing The Net' is working to change that, showcasing that knowledge is power and that our only chance to help prevent this issue is if we bring a 'whole-of-community' response.
The podcast series offers valuable tips and advice on how to keep kids safe online.
It has recorded more than 75,000 downloads and trended number one on Australian documentary podcasts, highlighting the demand for information and resources to help protect kids when they're online. Listen to the Closing the Net podcast on your favourite streaming platform.
Note to media:
Use of term 'CHILD ABUSE' MATERIAL NOT 'CHILD PORNOGRAPHY'
The correct legal term is Child Abuse Material – the move to this wording was among amendments to Commonwealth legislation in 2019 to more accurately reflect the gravity of the crimes and the harm inflicted on victims.
Use of the phrase "child pornography" is inaccurate and benefits child sex abusers because it:
- indicates legitimacy and compliance on the part of the victim and therefore legality on the part of the abuser; and
- conjures images of children posing in 'provocative' positions, rather than suffering horrific abuse.
AFP Media: (02) 5126 9297