The Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) centre has revealed that in the past two years, 184 children from the UK became victims of sexual blackmail online, with several self-harming or taking their own lives as a result.
The organisation warned that the offenders are getting bolder – in some cases, children are not just forced to send sexual images and videos of themselves, but also perform sexual acts live on webcam.
Since 2011, the CEOP centre has participated in 12 operations to hunt down paedophiles that blackmailed children into performing sexual acts using the Internet. In total, it discovered 424 cases of children being sexually abused online, both in the UK and abroad. These incidents led to seven suicides, one of them in Britain.
Typically, the offender pretends to be a child, sometimes assuming a different gender to gain their victim’s trust on one of the major social networking sites. The conversation is then moved to a more private messaging service, where they attempt to encourage exchange of sexual images. Later, children are blackmailed into increasingly degrading acts, under threat that these images will be shared with their friends and family.
CEOP says in one case, the criminal even stored his images in a folder named ‘slaves’.
“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,” said Andy Baker, deputy chief executive at the CEOP centre.
“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.”
CEOP said sexual abuse can be reported directly to the centre, or anonymously to NPCC or ChildLine.
Earlier this year, the UK government had introduced changes to the law that required ISPs to offer an “opt-out” adult content filter, as part of the efforts to protect children online.
Prime Minister David Cameron had also called upon Internet companies, including Google, to take “more action” against child abuse imagery available online. In response, Google started collecting unique codes which identify every image in a cross-industry database, to help companies, police and charities to better collaborate on detecting and removing illegal content and punishing those responsible.
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