Friday 20 September 2013

Children treated like ‘slaves’ to perform sexual acts

Children as young as eight are being forced into performing slave-like sex acts live on webcam by sexual abusers, according to research released today.

The shocking detail has been revealed by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) centre which has uncovered a worrying trend in children self-harming or taking their own lives as a result.

In the past two years, the CEOP centre has been involved in 12 operations where blackmailing children into performing sexual acts has been a clear motive of the offender. In that same period it has also discovered - using information from police forces in the UK and abroad - that 424 children have been a victim of online sexual blackmail, with 184 from the UK.

Research also shows that of those victims, seven children seriously self-harmed or attempted to take their own life, including six from the UK. Seven children took their own life, including one from the UK.

The CEOP centre, which will become a command within the National Crime Agency from next month, has also found that in some cases, children are not only made to exchange sexual images/videos of themselves, but also forced by offenders to perform other acts live on webcam including writing degrading statements on their body and cutting themselves.

The children are usually forced into performing these acts after the offender, who often initially pretends to be a child, threatens to share their naked pictures with friends and family unless they do as they are told.

CEOP’s operations have involved hundreds of victims from around the world, with offenders from both the UK and abroad. Many of these operations are ongoing. In one case an offender even collated his images of blackmailed victims in a folder named ‘slaves’.

These operations are showing how offenders usually assume a fake identity by pretending to be a child and sometimes a different gender.

They initially target children on more open chat sites and social networks before quickly moving them into more private areas where conversations become sexualised. Once the child has sent images, the offenders begin blackmailing them either for more indecent images or, in few cases, for cash. And unless the child agrees, the offender threatens to share the child’s pictures with family and friends.

Andy Baker, Deputy Chief Executive at the CEOP centre, said:

These offenders are cowards. They hide behind a screen, and in many cases make hollow threats which they know they will never act on because by sharing these images will only bring the police closer to them.

“However, our research shows that the power offenders use on their victims means children who are forced into performing acts on webcam or sending pictures can feel trapped, and some tragically go on to self-harm or in the worst cases take their own lives.

“The stories we hear are truly tragic and you cannot help but be touched by the emotional rollercoaster these youngsters must be going through. But there is help for children and their friends, as well as worried parents.

“The NSPCC has set up a 24/7 dedicated helpline for anyone worried about this issue on 0800 328 0904 and calls can be made anonymously. Victims and their friends can also contact ChildLine in confidence on 0800 1111 or use the ClickCEOP button on our website to report any sexual abuse. CEOP also offers dedicated support on its thinkuknow.co.uk website, and we are also working with schools to offer assemblies and lessons on how to stay safe online."

“The centre is also working closely with law enforcement around the globe to catch child sex abusers. We are using the latest technology and intelligence to ensure that no matter where in the world they are or no matter which parts of the web they are using, we will find them and we will catch them.”

If you are an adult worried about a child or if you think you have been the victim of such abuse - online blackmail involving the sharing of indecent images - you can get help and support by contacting the NSPCC’s dedicated 24/7 helpline on 0800 328 0904. If you are in immediate danger call the police on 999.

Alternatively, if you are a young person and either you or a friend has been sexually abused, you can contact ChildLine on 0800 1111 or report it using the ClickCEOP button at www.ceop.police.uk – where trained and experienced child protection workers will read and assess your information and you can also arrange to talk to one of these workers. You can also access more information, including how to stay safe online, on CEOP’s Facebook page, Twitter account and Youtube page. You will also find targeted help and support, including for parents and teachers, at www.thinkuknow.com.