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Children Targeted By Predators Online Surges During Covid-19 Pandemic



Children Targeted by Predators Online Surges During Covid-19 Pandemic

Children forced into online learning and using the internet for play because of the pandemic were put at risk of sexual exploitation and abuse.

In Thailand as well as much of the world, predators have taken advantage of the unprecedented health crisis to target children who do not receive proper online supervision by their parents and caregivers.

There have been unprecedented cases of online sexual abuse and exploitation of children. Despite this, very few incidents are reported.

In the first four months of the pandemic (between January and April 2020), more than 160,000 cases were recorded by the Thailand Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. About 400,000 children aged 12-17 have been abused and exploited online since last year.

Child abuse cases remain remarkably underreported

According to the recent Disrupting Harm report, only 1-3% of children report their experiences to the police. In the past three months, 10 to 31% of them have not disclosed their most recent incident to anyone. In addition, only 17% of caregivers reported to police if their child was harassed, abused, or exploited online.

Ecpat, Interpol, and the Unicef Office of Research – Innocenti conducted the research.

Psychiatrist Varoth Chotpitayasunondh, the spokesperson for the Department of Mental Health of the Ministry of Public Health, says that children as young as 5-6 are being targeted.

According to him, predators use a variety of tactics to lure child victims. In some instances, they may blackmail them into engaging in sexual activities or sharing their sexual images without their permission.

Some even coerce them by offering them money or gifts to engage in sexual activities. Children are often contacted via social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and TikTok.

The “grooming” of children is a tactic used by predators. Predators establish relationships with children in order to effectively reach them. “Some adult predators may offer targeted children money for sharing their sexual photos or invite them out to engage in sexual activity in person,” Dr. Varoth told Thai PBS.

According to him, children are often abused by people they know, such as a family member, a boyfriend, a friend, a neighbor, a coach, or a teacher.

According to the psychiatrist, online exploitation of kids and abuse can take place completely online, but it can also occur in person between predators and victims. The report found that 10% of children have met someone they met online in person.

Why don’t the Children inform authorities?

Dr. Varoth believes stigma is one of the most significant barriers keeping victims and survivors from reporting and disclosing online threats, saying that social norms shaped their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors towards incidents.

The majority of child victims believe they did something wrong or didn’t do something right. Often, they blame themselves for wearing the wrong clothing or for trusting the wrong person. They fear being disbelieved or being blamed for what has happened. What will happen to them? Will friends make fun of them?” the psychiatrist says.

Some of the child victims who do report incidents report feeling held responsible for online abuse and exploitation and seldom consider themselves victims. They believe authorities and society share the same viewpoint.

Additionally, the police investigation techniques they use when questioning them are unfriendly to child victims and survivors. One survivor reported that she was interviewed in the police station at the front desk about her experience of online sexual abuse. When the survivor reported to the police, there were about 10 other people present, including two male officers and five friends.

Many children do not know where to turn if they or a friend are sexually assaulted or harassed, according to Dr. VarothA report found that 47% of children surveyed would not know how to get help in these situations.

Children are unaware that they can report the incident to the police, he says.

Dr. Varothad advises parents and caregivers not to ask for details or to pose ‘why’ questions when their children discuss abuse, stressing that children who have experienced abuse should be supported rather than pressed.

“We should respond actively, but with care,” he says. People should not repeatedly ask abused children the same questions. This perpetuates the abuse. Do not bring it up in front of others. This makes them feel ashamed. It hurts their feelings,” he says, adding that sexually exploited children suffer detrimental effects on their mental, physical, and emotional well-being as a result.

He emphasizes the importance of being patient, listening to them, believing in them, and being supportive in order to help them move forward with their lives.

Aside from getting help from professionals, he advises parents to face the problem honestly and put the blame firmly on the person who committed the abuse.

How to protect children online

Kids have many opportunities for learning, communication, creativity, entertainment, and creativity on the Internet. However, they are also exposed to a multitude of risks.

In order to prevent online sexual exploitation and abuse, Dr. Varoth says that parents and caregivers must teach their children how to protect themselves from those who would harm them and help them grow as digital citizens.

In addition, establish reasonable limits for screen time and content your child can use. Make sure your child has adequate digital literacy and skills to stay safe online.

Furthermore, he added that parents should also upskill themselves to deal with the digital world and keep up to date with technology so that they can assist their children when problems arise.

Many parents who are not familiar with technology fail to teach their children how to cope with online threats. Some kids find it difficult to talk with their parents about the abuse, he explains.

“Parents often do not realize when a child is reporting online sexual abuse, and may not even understand that it is wrong. Therefore, be a wise parent to support your child’s education and well-being. They will trust in you to ask for help,” he explains.

Many state agencies, including the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Education, and the Department of Mental Health in the Ministry of Public Health, as well as law enforcement agencies and non-government organizations, are working on issues related to online child sexual exploitation and abuse, but more needs to be done.

In order to combat these problems, Dr. Varoth suggests appointing a government body to coordinate and lead on responses and preventions, as well as improving data collection, to make work more effective. It is also imperative that children and caregivers are informed about the risks and their rights, as well as supported through the justice system.

The public and parents need to be educated more about online sexual exploitation and abuse of kids and reporting mechanisms.

In order to better protect kids’ online safety, more collective efforts from all parts of society are necessary, he says.

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