New analysis by the eSafety Commissioner reveals one in eight complaints of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) involved the perpetrator directing the child to perform explicit acts via a webcam or smart phone.
eSafety investigators re-analysed 1,330 URLs from last financial year to better understand where and how children were being abused online, finding that 12 per cent of the material was ‘self-generated’.
eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said perpetrators were sliding into DMs on online games and social media to groom children to perform sexually explicit acts via in-built cameras on smart devices.
“Even in the safety and sanctity of your home, online predators can infiltrate your child’s world through smart devices, masquerading as children of a similar age or as an overly sympathetic adult,” Ms Inman Grant said.
“Our investigators have seen content where a child is being ordered to remove their clothes and perform acts via a webcam as their parents call them for dinner in the next room.”
Globally, Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) is seeing an exponential increase in so-called self-generated CSAM, with predators using a combination of fear, flattery and gifts to control, coerce and manipulate the child.
“Online predators brainwash the child into thinking the adults in their life will punish them, blame them or not believe them. The child is made to feel terrified and utterly alone,” she said.
“This profound sense of isolation and fear is not only debilitating in the short-term for the child but can have significant, long-term mental health impacts.”
The analysis also reveals that 25 per cent of all analysed material had been produced in areas of a family home: 16 per cent in a bedroom, 5 per cent in a living room and 4 per cent in a bathroom.
“The amount of content produced in the home environment is likely to be much higher. Our investigators are analysing material where much of the environment is deliberately cropped out or obscured,” she said.
The 1,300 URLs were a subset of more than 15,000 CSAM URLs investigated by eSafety last financial year. Images (87 per cent) and videos (8 per cent) were the most common type of material analysed.
“The analysis is a powerful and sobering reminder of the crucial role parents and carers play in children’s online safety,” she said.
“From an early age, let them know if anyone asks for a photo of them with no clothes on they should come to you straight away and you'll help them. Particularly during the younger years, know who they are connected to, including through online games.
“Ensure devices are used in open areas of the home, rather than in the bathroom or bedroom, so you’re generally aware of what they’re doing online. Most of the covert online grooming and sexual extortion our investigators see is happening behind closed doors.
“Make time to co-view and play the online games their children love to play. Children and young people feel safer and more connected when parents and carers watch and play with them.
“As a family, set online rules together, including which devices and apps can be used, when and for how long. Regularly review the privacy and safety features of the apps they’re using with them to ensure they are set at the highest level.
While parents and carers play a crucial role in children’s online safety, Ms Inman Grant continues to call on industry to do more to protect children.
“Industry can and must do more to prevent their platforms, services and devices from being weaponised by criminals targeting children. We need them to halt the creation and spread of this horrific material by embedding Safety by Design,” she said.
“Piecemeal action by only a few tech players won’t cut it. Everyone has a role to play because it’s a network of online interactions that permits this deeply harmful and abusive content to spread at its current pace, scale and volume.”
Signs for parents and carers to watch for:
Your child is avoiding their phone or other devices or seems anxious when near them. They may also seem more worried or anxious generally.
They become vague or secretive about what they’re doing online, such as being less open in discussion, or using their devices in private areas, like their bedroom.
They become quieter or more withdrawn. When online child sexual abuse happens, the perpetrator will often try to scare a child to keep silent, often by threatening to tell on them or harm people they love.
They have unexplained access to money or expensive purchases, such as shoes, games or gaming credit. This may indicate a perpetrator is using gifts to buy the child’s silence and/or encourage them to share sexual material.
Please note: This list is not exhaustive, and every child’s response will be different. We encourage you to regularly remind them you're a safe person to talk to when something happens online and reassure them you won’t get angry or upset and you'll work out a solution together.
Online safety advice:
Make a report:
If you know a child being groomed or has had explicit material of them shared, report it to the Australian Federal Police-led Australian Centre for Countering Child Exploitation.
For child sexual abuse support and advice in Australia, call Bravehearts on 1800 272 831.
For anonymous self-help for anyone worried about their own sexual thoughts, feelings, and behaviour towards children, call Stop It Now! Australia helpline on 1800 01 1800.
The Commissioner is Australia’s independent regulator for online safety. Our purpose is to help safeguard all Australians from online harms and to promote safer, more positive online experiences.
acts as a safety net for Australians who report cyberbullying, serious online abuse or image-based abuse. We can also investigate and remove seriously harmful illegal and restricted content, including online child sexual exploitation material. Find out more: eSafety.gov.au
For media inquiries, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 0439 519 684 (calls only, no text)