The AFP-led Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE) is urging parents to supervise children online and discuss online safety, revealing for the first time the volume of sexually explicit content produced and posted online by children with no adult criminality involved.
ACCCE Commander Helen Schneider said the ACCCE received, on average, five to 10 reports every week about children as young as five who had filmed or photographed themselves naked, sometimes displaying sexually explicit behaviour, and posted the content online, without adult criminality or involvement.
She said police usually saw the number of reports received of children uploading videos or images to social media platforms increase by up to 20 per cent after the school holidays, when children had spent more time online.
“In multiple cases, children filmed and uploaded videos of themselves naked by accident and they have done this from a parent’s phone or computer left unattended,” Commander Schneider said.
“It is important parents lock shared devices and supervise their children while they are online.
“While these images are also often taken and shared intentionally by minors, the flow-on effects can be damaging with content reaching the hands of child sex offenders.
“Offenders often visit popular social media platforms looking for self-produced content and share it with other offenders, or may even try to contact the child to groom them to create more extreme content.
“Children must be reminded about what content is appropriate to share online, and to always seek help from a trusted adult if something makes them feel unsafe.”
While offenders sextorting teenagers for financial gain has been a concerning trend in the past year, AFP child protection investigators have conducted welfare checks on multiple families across Australia about photos or videos showing a child naked or displaying sexual behaviours that appear to be self-generated by the child and which were found to have been posted without adult involvement.
The AFP is often alerted to these cases after they are flagged by social media platforms and reported to the United States’ National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
“When we receive an alert about a video or image appearing on a social media platform, we need to check who has created and posted it and make sure the child involved is safe,” Commander Schneider said.
“Often parents do not know what their child has done – the only warning may be a social media account being shut down – and the child isn’t aware of the implications.
“We also urge parents to remind their children never to share any personal information online with people they have never met and trust in person.
“Parents, caregivers and the community are the first line of defence when it comes to protecting children.
“Supervision is critical to prevent an incident happening, and ensures adults can take immediate action if their child needs help. Meanwhile, the AFP and law enforcement partners will continue to work tirelessly to identify and prosecute those preying on children.”
The AFP’s ThinkUKnow program has a range of resources for families and children around internet safety. These are available at ThinkUKnow.org.au/resources.
ThinkUKnow and the ACCCE recently launched the children’s book Jack Changes the Game to help parents, carers and teachers start important conversations about online safety. The book is for five to eight year olds, and comes with learning activities to help reinforce safety messages. We urge parents to read the e-book with their kids over the holidays.
The AFP and its partners are committed to stopping child exploitation and abuse, and the ACCCE is driving a collaborative national approach to combatting child abuse.
The ACCCE brings together specialist expertise and skills in a central hub, supporting investigations into online child sexual exploitation and developing prevention strategies focused on creating a safer online environment.
Members of the public who have information about people involved in child abuse are urged to contact the ACCCE at www.accce.gov.au/report. If you know abuse is happening right now or a child is at risk, call police immediately on 000.
If you or someone you know is impacted by child sexual abuse and online exploitation, support services are available at www.accce.gov.au/support.
Research conducted by the ACCCE in 2020 revealed only about half of parents talked to their children about online safety. Advice and support for parents and carers about how they can help protect children online can be found at www.thinkuknow.org.au, an AFP-led education program designed to prevent online child sexual exploitation.
For more information on the role of the ACCCE, what is online child sexual exploitation and how to report it visit www.accce.gov.au.