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Time to cast a wider net on children’s safety

In the past, a  strong focus on personal safety for children and many parents has centred on familiar  ‘stranger danger’ messages – but as the AFP heads into National Child Protection Week there is an opportunity to broaden the discussion and think about  how we can work together to keep  children safe in all arenas of their lives.

Children and young people are increasingly being exposed to technology and the internet, and parents need to become as equally as aware about their children’s online safety as they do their physical safety.

The AFP plays a significant role in preventing child exploitation and unfortunately that need is growing as the number of reports of Child Abuse Material involving Australian victims or offenders rises.

In 2016-17, the AFP received more than 10,000 reports of Child Abuse Material through its Child Protection Assessment Centre. This year the AFP Assessment Centre expects to receive in excess of 18,000 reports.

This is of concern to AFP investigators – and it should be to parents and carers. 

Keeping children safe is not just a law enforcement issue, it requires the community to work together and create safer environments for children.

Everyone has a role to play and National Child Protection Week (2-8 September) encourages us to consider the role we can play.

In 2016-17, the AFP received more than 10,000 reports of Child Abuse Material through its Child Protection Assessment Centre. This year it expects to receive in excess of 18,000 reports.
In 2016-17, the AFP received more than 10,000 reports of Child Abuse Material through its Child Protection Assessment Centre. This year it expects to receive in excess of 18,000 reports.

In Platypus this week, we speak to some of the AFP teams involved in preventing, deterring and investigating online child exploitation to get their advice on keeping children and young people safe, no matter what environment they are in.

Many of the members that work in this space are parents themselves, and are concerned that by the time they become aware of an incident, a child has already been severely impacted for life.

This drives their support for education and awareness issues like National Child Protection Week and fundraising initiatives like White Balloon Day (7 September).

Online Child Safety Team

Using real case studies and law enforcement examples, the AFP Online Child Safety Team develop education and training materials for parents, carers, teachers and students across Australia.

This is achieved through the ThinkUKnow program - a partnership between the AFP, Microsoft Australia, Datacom and the Commonwealth Bank. The program is delivered in collaboration with state and territory police and Neighbourhood Watch Australasia.

In 2017-18 ThinkUKnow volunteers delivered 485 presentations to 17,000 parents, carers and teachers, and state and territory police delivered 2,711 presentations to 196,800 students across Australia.

A new presentation for Kindergarten (Prep/Foundation) to Year Two students was introduced in 2018 to address the issue of younger children accessing technology and reports to law enforcement involving younger victims.

According to AFP Detective Acting Superintendent Jayne Crossling one of the concepts explored in the student presentations is critical thinking.

“We encourage children and young people to question what they see online and think about if it is real? Is it safe? Who put it online? What are their intentions?” she said.

Parents and carers often state that they are unsure of how to start a dialogue with their children about online safety.

“Show an interest in your child’s online activities. Ask them what they like doing online, what they like about it and get them to show you some of the games and apps they are using.

“Better still, play a game with them. Children respond well to this and it will give you the opportunity to talk about some of the challenges they may encounter in a natural and non-confrontational setting,” said Detective Acting Superintendent Crossling.

Parents are urged to show an interest in their child's online activities by asking them what they like doing online and looking at the games and apps they are using.
Parents are urged to show an interest in their child's online activities by asking them what they like doing online and looking at the games and apps they are using.

Child Protection Assessment Centre

The Child Protection Assessment Centre evaluates and triages reports of Child Abuse Material, which involves reviewing the material and completing a risk assessment. Depending on the level of risk, these matters are referred to an appropriate law enforcement agency for action or recorded for intelligence and education purposes.

One of the trends the team is experiencing is an increase in self-produced Child Abuse Material. This is when a young person records and shares sexualised images of themselves.

It is essential for parents of young children to supervise their online activity.

Making sure you know what your children are doing and who they are talking to online is imperative to ensuring children are safe.

The team sees reports come from a wide range of apps - in fact they can often be age-appropriate apps that most parents may consider benign.

While some games and apps have better moderation and safety features, it is important to remember that ALL apps have the potential to be misused or cause harm.

Victim Identification Team

Victim Identification focuses on identifying victims depicted in Child Abuse Material.

In identifying potential victims, the Victim Identification Team liaises with Australian and/or foreign law enforcement agencies, particularly in the jurisdiction where the child resides with the objective of removing the child from harm.

Once images are produced and shared, the distribution is outside the control of the young person who created them. 

The AFP is seeing these images appear on other popular social media platforms. However, international research indicates that self-produced images are being shared in forums discussing or exchanging child exploitation material.

AFP Victim Identification team leader Federal Agent Kurt Wesche urges parents to ensure their children are able to recognise suspicious behaviour and feel comfortable approaching them if something goes wrong online.

“Your children may experiment and face challenges online. It’s important they have the skills to block and report suspicious behaviour.

“Some young victims may hesitate to report an incident because they are afraid of getting in trouble or being embarrassed,” said Federal Agent Wesche.

The AFP Victim Identification Team liaises with Australian and/or foreign law enforcement agencies with the objective of removing the child from harm.
The AFP Victim Identification Team liaises with Australian and/or foreign law enforcement agencies with the objective of removing the child from harm.

More information and resources

For more information about empowering children and young people to stay safe online visit www.thinkuknow.org.au or like and follow ThinkUKnow on social media. Schools, community groups and organisations can book parent, carer, teacher or student online safety presentations on the website or by calling 1300 362 936 during business hours.

Office of the eSafety Commissioner handles a complaints service for young Australians who experience serious online bullying, identifying and removing illegal online content and tackling image-based abuse. The website (www.esafety.gov.au) contains online safety education materials for a range of audiences.

Find out how to support National Child Protection Week at www.napcan.org.au and Braveheart’s White Balloon Day at www.whiteballoonday.com.au.