20th September 2013
The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) has warned that hundreds of children in the UK are being blackmailed into performing sex acts on the internet. The alert coincides with the launch of Get Safe Online's 'Switched on' campaign and new website pages on safeguarding children.
In a two-year period, of the 424 children that CEOP know of who had been victimised in this way, 184 were in the UK. The abusers pose as other children and persuade the victims into performing sexual acts on their webcam or sharing images, then threatening to send the images to their family and friends.
CEOP's Deputy Chief Executive Andy Baker told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that such events typically escalate "really quickly", saying that it can take as little as four minutes "to go from, 'Hi, do you want to get naked?', to self-harming". He added: "We're talking about a very small dark percentage of (the internet) and this is what we need to police".
An increasing number of victims are suffering serious consequences as a result of this type of sexual blackmail. As far as is known, seven victims have killed themselves, including 17 year-old Dumferline apprentice mechanic Daniel Perry who took his own life earlier this year. Seven children seriously self-harmed, including six from the UK.
The abusers are typically males between 20 and 44 who are proficiient computer users … either acting alone or as part of a network.
Of the victims, adolescents are particularly vulnerable, being targeted when they are exploring their emerging sexuality and are becoming more likely to take risks. However, children as young as eight years old had been forced to perform "slave-like acts", Mr Baker said.
CEOP's biggest case to date – Operation K – involved 322 children, mainly 11 to 15 year-old boys globally, being blackmailed. 96 of these lived in the UK.
The gang used different fake online profiles and email addresses to perpetrate the crimes. It was uncovered after a social networking site noticed suspicious activity and a British child told their parents.