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1.4.6 Child Abuse and Information Communication Technology

RELATED DOCUMENTS AND INFORMATION

College of Policing – Guidance on Young People who Post Self-Taken Indecent Images (So called 'sexting')

Child Safety Online – Government Guidance for Parents and Carers whose Children use Social Media

For further reading please see Child Exploitation and On-Line Protection Centre (CEOP). CEOP works to protect children, families and society from paedophiles and sex offenders - in particular those who seek to exploit children sexually online.

AMENDMENT

In May 2017, this guidance was updated to include a reference to Outcome 21 which can be used by the Police in situations where young people are voluntarily sending/sharing sexual images or content with one another. Outcome 21 records that a crime has been committed but that it is not considered to be in the public interest to take criminal action against the people involved. Thereby reducing stigma and distress for children and helping to minimise the long term impact of the situation.


Contents

  1. Child Abuse and the Internet
  2. Adults who Access Indecent Images Online
  3. Grooming and Online Abuse
  4. Guidance upon the Discovery of Indecent Images of Children
  5. Referral and Strategy Discussion
  6. Outcome of the Section 47 Enquiry
  7. Actions to be taken where an Employee has Concerns about a Colleague
  8. Keeping Children Safe Online
  9. Further Information


1. Child Abuse and the Internet

Internet or Online Abuse includes the following forms of abuse to children:

  • Abusive images of children (although these are not confined to the Internet);
  • A child or young person being groomed online for the purpose of Sexual Abuse;
  • A child or young person being exposed to pornographic images and other offensive material via the Internet; and
  • The use of the internet, and in particular social media sites, to engage children in extremist ideologies.

The internet can be accessed on mobile and smart phones, laptops, computers, tablets, webcams, cameras and games consoles.

Social networking sites can be used by perpetrators as an easy way to access children and young people for sexual abuse. In addition radical and extremist groups may use social networking to attract children and young people into rigid and narrow ideologies which are intolerant of diversity: this is similar to the process by which young people are groomed for sexual abuse and exploits the same vulnerabilities.

Internet abuse also includes online-bullying. This is when a child is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child via the Internet and/or mobile devices. It is essentially behaviour between children, although it is possible for one victim to be bullied by many perpetrators. In any case of severe bullying it may be appropriate to consider the behaviour as child abuse by another young person.

Sexting describes the use of technology to share indecent / sexual images or videos which young people have taken of themselves. These images are then shared (usually via instant messaging or text messaging) between other young people and/or adults, including with people they may not even know. The content can vary, from images of partial nudity, to sexual images or video. Young people are not always aware that sharing images in this way is illegal.

Online safety is a generic term that refers to raising awareness about how children, young people and adults can protect themselves when using digital technology / in the online environment, and provides examples of interventions that can reduce the level of risk for children and young people.

The chapters relating to Complex (Organised or Multiple) Abuse and Allegations Against Persons who Work with Children should be borne in mind depending on the circumstances of the concerns.

2. Adults who Access Indecent Images Online

There is some evidence from research that people found in possession of indecent images/pseudo images or films/videos of children may currently, or in the future, become directly involved in the abuse of children. When someone is discovered to have uploaded or accessed such material on the Internet, the Police must consider the possibility that the individual is involved in the active abuse of children. 

In particular, the individual’s access to children should be established during an assessment and investigation to consider the possibility that they may be actively involved in the abuse of children including those within the family, within employment contexts or in other settings such as voluntary work with children or other positions of trust.

Any indecent, obscene image involving a child has, by its very nature, involved a person, who in creating that image has been party to abusing that child. Consuming, storing and distributing indecent and abusive images of children online is illegal.


3. Grooming and Online Abuse

Section 15 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (as amended by the Serious Crime Act) makes it an offence for a person aged 18 or over to meet intentionally, or to travel with the intention of meeting, a child aged under 16 in any part of the world, if he has met or communicated with the child on at least one earlier occasion, and intends to commit a “relevant offence” against that child either at the time of the meeting or on a subsequent occasion. This section is intended to cover situations where an adult establishes contact with a child through, e.g. meetings, telephone conversations or communications on the internet.

“Relevant Offence” refers to any offence defined under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, involving sexual activity/assault and/or criminal conduct.

Often, adults who want to engage children in sexual acts, or communicate with them for sexual gratification will seek out vulnerable children online who desire friendship. To this end, social networking sites are used by perpetrators as an easy way to access children.

Perpetrators use a number of grooming techniques including building a relationship and trust with the child through lying, creating different online personas and then attempting to engage the child in more intimate forms of communication including exploiting a child through the use of images and webcams. Child sex abusers will often use coercion/and or blackmail as methods of securing the silence of a child with the intention of arranging a physical meeting with the child.

The Serious Crime Act (2015) has introduced an offence of sexual communication with a child. This applies to an adult who communicates with a child and the communication is sexual or if it is intended to elicit from the child a communication which is sexual and the adult reasonably believes the child to be under16 years of age.


4. Guidance upon the Discovery of Indecent Images of Children

Often issues involving child abuse come to light through an accidental discovery of images on a computer or other device and can seem to emerge ‘out of the blue’ from an otherwise trusted and non-suspicious individual. This in itself can make accepting the fact of the abuse difficult for those who know and may have trusted that individual. Partners, colleagues and friends often find it very difficult to believe and may require support.

All organisations should have Acceptable Use policies and procedures for staff and volunteers.

It is a criminal act under Section 1 of the Protection of Children Act 1978 for any person to make and distribute indecent images of children. These are arrestable offences.

Upon the receipt of any information concerning a person who is suspected of accessing indecent images of children online, their employer head should notify the Police (Child and Public Protection Unit) immediately.

The computer should be left and not used by anyone, allowing this to be seized as evidence for forensic examination by the Police. The details of all persons having access to the computer should be made available to allow a clear evidence trail to be established.


5. Referral and Strategy Discussion

Where there is suspected or actual evidence of anyone accessing or creating indecent images of children, this must be referred to the Police and Children’s Social Care Services - see Section 6, Outcome of the Section 47 Enquiry.

Where there are concerns about a child being groomed, exposed to pornographic material or contacted by someone inappropriately, via the Internet, a referral should be made Children’s Social Care Services.

Due to the nature of this type of abuse and the possibility of the destruction of evidence, the referrer should first discuss their concerns with the Police and Children’s Social Care Services before raising the matter with the family. This will enable a joint decision to be made about informing the family and ensuring that the child’s welfare is safeguarded.

All such reports should be taken seriously. Most referrals will be followed by a Single Assessment and information should be shared between the Police and Children’s Social Care Services in order to determine whether a Strategy Discussion should take place. 

A Strategy Discussion and any Section 47 Enquiry must carefully consider:

  • Is there a child at immediate risk of Significant Harm e.g. the child in the image or a child in the household?
  • What is the impact on the child in the image/in the household in terms of risks and their needs?
  • Are there other children visiting the household? What is the impact on them? 
  • Is the child about to meet with the person inappropriately contacting them?
  • Is the person accessing images or creating them in contact with children in their workplace?
  • Is the person inappropriately contacting the child in contact with children in their workplace?
  • Is the person accessing or creating images involved in voluntary work, youth work or any other activity involving positions of trust?
  • Is the person inappropriately contacting the child involved in voluntary work, youth work or any other activity involving a position of trust?
  • What is the timescale for a forensic investigation of any computer equipment?
  • If the person is to be investigated, how should their contact with children be managed in the meantime, in the workplace and/or at home?
  • Should other procedures, such as the Allegations Against Persons who Work with Children Procedure be triggered?
  • Is the other parent or any other carer in the household able to protect the child? What support networks do they have?
  • What are the implications of the likely delay in the criminal investigations?

Intervention should be continually under review if further evidence comes to light.

Where there are concerns in relation to a child’s exposure to extremist materials, the child’s school may be able to provide advice and support: all schools are required to identify a Prevent Single Point of Contact (SPOC) who is the lead for safeguarding in relation to protecting individuals from radicalisation and involvement in terrorism.

Suspected online terrorist material can be reported through GOV.UK. Reports can be made anonymously, although practitioners should not do so as they must follow the procedures for professionals.

Content of concern can also be reported directly to social media platforms – see Safety features on social networks.


6. Outcome of the Section 47 Enquiry

Where the enquiries have revealed that there are children in the household or in regular contact with the household about whom there are concerns of continuing risk of Significant Harm, an Initial Child Protection Conference must be convened within 15 working days of the last Strategy Discussion.

Where there are no children identified in the adult’s household or immediate home environment but the adult is in contact with children in other settings such as work or other activities, the relevant procedure such as the Allegations Against Persons who Work with Children Procedure should be followed.

Where the person, who is alleged to have accessed or created the indecent images or groomed another child, is a child, action under the Abuse by Children and Young People who Display Harmful Sexual Behaviour Procedure should be considered.


7. Actions to be taken where an Employee has Concerns about a Colleague

Where an employee has either information or reason to suspect that a colleague is accessing indecent images of children, the following procedures must be followed:

  1. The employee with the concerns must inform his/her own line manager the same working day;
  2. Where the concerns are about the line manager, then the employee should go straight to the next in line senior manager, or any other senior manager, within the same working day;
  3. The manager who receives the information should ensure the computer in question is appropriately secured, and that it is not used by any other employee;
  4. The Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) must be contacted the same day;
  5. Where an employee does not feel confident in informing any available line manager, then the agency’s own whistle-blowing procedures should be used;
  6. The LADO and the manager will ensure that the Police Child and Public Protection Unit is contacted and actions agreed the same working day;
  7. Identified senior managers will discuss and agree appropriate immediate actions regarding the employee subject to the allegations. There should be liaison with the LADO and the views of the police should be canvassed to inform the decision;
  8. The Local Authority Designated Officer will ensure the Child Protection Procedures are followed, including the Allegations Against Persons who Work with Children Procedure, where appropriate.


8. Keeping Children Safe Online

When communicating via the internet, children can become less wary and talk about things far more openly than they might when communicating face to face. Both male and female adults and some children may use the internet to harm children. Some do this by looking at, taking and/or distributing photographs and video images on the internet of children naked, in sexual poses and/or being sexually abused.

Children should be supported to understand that when they use digital technology they should not give out personal information, particularly their name, address or school, mobile phone numbers to anyone they do not know or trust. This particularly includes social networking and online gaming sites. If they have been asked for such information, they should always check with their parent / carer or other trusted adult before providing such details. It is also important that they understand why they must take a parent / carer or trusted adult with them if they meet someone face to face whom they have only previously met on-line. It is also important to ensure children have an understanding of their ‘digital-footprint’ and the potential impact this has both now and in the future.

It is essential that young people understand the legal implications and the risks they are taking. The initial risk posed by sexting may come from peers, friends and others in their social network who may share the images. Once an image has been sent, it is then out of the young person’s control. It could be shared with others or posted elsewhere online.

Where young people are voluntarily sending/sharing sexual images or content with one another, the West Yorkshire Police may use the ‘outcome 21’ recording code to record that a crime has been committed but that it is not considered to be in the public interest to take criminal action against the people involved. This reduces stigma and distress for children and helps to minimise the long term impact of the situation.

See Briefing note, Police action in response to youth produced sexual imagery (‘Sexting’) (College of Policing)

See Childnet Advice on Sexting


9. Further Information

See UK Safer Internet website

and CEOP, thinkUknow website.

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