Are Predators one step ahead of Protectors?

In the digital age of today, young teens are frequently roaming the streets of cyberspace, often unsupervised. Being gullible, immature and at times reckless, they become easy targets for online predators, who seem to be using, or rather abusing technology pretty effectively for their malicious purposes. The many horror stories concerning children getting abused by strangers they met online clearly highlight the dangers that await them online. Adding to the direness of the situations, a recent study done by researchers at Plymouth University and University Campus Suffolk for the Marie Collins Foundation has found that the child protection agencies in England are failing to keep pace with technology advancements, giving online predators a clear and dangerous edge over them. Playing “catch up” to the latter is severely deterring their efforts for child abuse prevention.

Kids in the age of digital threats

Being young and immature, kids usually don’t stop and think before doing something. Instead, they give in to their impulse. A similar attitude and behavior is exhibited by them in the online world, thus making them susceptible to online child abuse, especially with kids as young as nine visiting chat rooms to search for love, attention and relationships. Online predators exploit the immaturity, innocence and gullibility of kids to entrap them. Giving their victims the attention they crave, the predators coax them into revealing personal and sensitive information and then use it to tighten their grip on their victims even further. The latter are then either persuaded to film themselves in compromising positions and share them, which eventually get distributed across the internet. In some instances, the online predator convinces the victims to meet them in real life, thus getting in a position to abuse them physically along with emotionally and psychologically.

The inadequacy of child protection agencies in England

The situation is nothing short of dire at the moment in England as far as online child abuse is concerned, or at least that is what the researchers at Plymouth University and University Campus Suffolk seem to have concluded. While conducting a study on the issue of online abuse and the preparedness of professionals such as health workers, social workers, child protection advisors, teachers and learning support assistants to deal with the matter, they came across some pretty alarming truth. Over 50 percent of the respondents conceded that they are neither prepared nor confident to help out a child victim of online abuse. 70 percent of the respondents admitted that they hadn’t received any training in online risk management, while 95 percent of them agreed on its importance. Kids clearly seem to be at the mercy of online predators in cyberspace.

The urgent need to work on online safety of children

Online child abuse is a reality that is capable of having far-reaching effects on the well-being of teens. Parents, teachers, child-protection agencies, law enforcing bodies, and the government need to take the matter seriously and work on finding an effective and long-term solution. The English government claims to be making an effort to empower the child protection agencies by offering them the necessary training to deal with online child abuse and help out the victims. However, it’s only the beginning of a long and challenging journey.

Technology advancement is an ongoing process and online predators can be expected to continue their efforts to abuse it. However, concerned adults, agencies and authorities need to ensure that they don’t let the perpetrators of online abuse gain an edge over them. A proactive rather than reactive approach is what is required to ensure online safety for teens.

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