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2.2.9 Online Safety, Child Abuse and Technology

RELATED CHAPTERS

Bullying Procedure

Safeguarding Children Abused through Sexual Exploitation Procedure

Children Who Exhibit Harmful Behaviour including Sexual Harm (Assessing and Providing Interventions)- Kent Only Procedure

Working with Sexually Active Young People Procedure

RELATED DOCUMENTS AND INFORMATION

Child Safety Online: A practical guide for parents and carers whose children are using social media

ACPO CPAI Briefing: Lead's Position on Young People who Post Self-Taken Indecent Images

For further reading, go to the Child Exploitation and On-Line Protection Centre (CEOP) which can be found at the CEOP website. CEOP is a partnership between government, law enforcement, NGO’s (including children’s charities) and industry, with the common aim of protecting children from on and offline exploitation. CEOP is part of UK law enforcement and  works to protect children, families and society from sex offenders - in particular those who seek to exploit children sexually online.

The Home Office and the technology industry are also working together to raise awareness about the safe use of interactive communication technologies by children.

KENT SCB SPECIFIC DOCUMENTS

KSCB Online Safety (E-Safety) Strategy

Responding to Sexting (Youth Produced Sexual Imagery): KSCB Guidance for Professionals

AMENDMENT

In October 2016, a link to Child Safety Online: A practical guide for parents and carers whose children are using social media was added above. Links to two Kent SCB specific documents were also added (above).


Contents

  1. The Internet
  2. Child Abuse and the Adult
  3. Sexual Offences Act 2003 and Grooming
  4. Guidance upon the Discovery of Indecent Images of Children
  5. Referral and Strategy Discussion
  6. Outcome of the Section 47 Enquiry
  7. Sexting
  8. Actions to be taken where an Employee has Concerns about a Colleague


1. The Internet

As technology develops, the Internet and its range of content services can be accessed by children, young people and adults through various devices including mobile phones, tablets, text messaging and mobile camera Smart Phones as well as computers and game consoles. As a consequence the Internet has become a significant tool in exposing children to possible risks and dangers including the distribution of indecent/pseudo photographs and video clips of children and young people. Online safety or “e-Safety” is now an essential part of safeguarding children and young people in every day life. e-Safety  is not about restricting or banning children and young people from using technology, but  should be about raising awareness of  risks as well as benefits and being able to take steps to minimise dangers and for adults and children to be able to recognise and respond to concerns. Education and training around online safety is essential for professionals as well as children, young people and their families and organisations will need to take appropriate steps to ensure they are embedded online safety as part of their safeguarding procedures e.g. staff training, acceptable use policies, safe infrastructure etc.

Internet chat rooms, gaming sites, social networking sites, instant messaging services, apps, discussion forums and bulletin boards can all be used as a means of contacting children and young people with a view to grooming them for inappropriate or abusive relationships, which may include requests to make and transmit pornographic indecent images of themselves or to perform sexual acts live in front of a web cam. An indecent image of a child refers to any images (still or moving) of children, apparently under 18 years of age, involved in sexual activity or posed to be sexually provocative. Contacts initially made online are likely to be carried on via email, instant messaging services, social networking, gaming sites, social networking sites, apps, mobile phones and text messaging.

There is also a growing cause for concern about the exposure of children to inappropriate material via interactive communication technology, the Internet e.g. cyberbullying, adult pornography, sites that promote self-harm, suicide, eating disorders, online hate material and extreme forms of obscene, offensive and violent material.

A classification of online opportunities and risks for children was produced by the EU Kids Online Report 2009.

Click here to view table

Livingstone, S, and Haddon, L (2009)
EU Kids Online: Final report. LSE, London: EU Kids Online.


2. Child Abuse and the Adult

It is possible that people found in possession of indecent photographs/pseudo photographs or films/videos of children may now or in the future be involved directly in child abuse themselves. When someone is discovered to have placed or accessed such material on the Internet, the Police should consider the potential likelihood that the individual is involved in the active abuse of children.

In particular, the individual’s access to children should be established within the family, within employment contexts and in other settings such as voluntary work with children or other positions of trust.

It should be borne in mind that any indecent image involving a child has, by its very nature, involved a person, who in creating that image has been party to abusing that child. These images are not “pornography”, rather, they are permanent records of children being sexually exploited and as such should be referred to as child sexual abuse images or indecent images of children.

Organisations should make staff aware of their responsibility in relation to safeguarding children and young people they work with online. That may include delivering e-Safety awareness training.


3. Sexual Offences Act 2003 and Grooming

Section 15 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 makes it an offence for a person (A) aged 18 or over to meet intentionally, or to travel with the intention of meeting a child under 16 in any part of the world, if he/she has met or communicated with that child on at least two earlier occasions, and intends to commit a “relevant offence” against that child either at the time of the meeting or on a subsequent occasion. An offence is not committed if (A) reasonably believes the child to be 16 or over.

The section is intended to cover situations where an adult (A) establishes contact with a child through for example, communications on the internet and gains the child’s trust and confidence so that he/she can arrange to meet the child for the purpose of committing a “relevant offence” against the child.

The course of conduct prior to the meeting that triggers the offence may have an explicitly sexual content, such as (A) entering into conversations with the child about sexual acts he/she wants to engage him/her in when they meet, or sending images of adult pornography. However, the prior meetings or communication need not have an explicitly sexual content and could for example simply be (A) giving swimming lessons or meeting him/her incidentally through a friend.

The offence will be complete either when, following the earlier communications, (A) meets the child or travels to meet the child with the intent to commit a relevant offence against the child. The intended offence does not have to take place.

The evidence of (A’s) intent to commit an offence may be drawn from the communications between (A) and the child before the meeting or may be drawn from other circumstances, for example if (A) travels to the meeting with ropes, condoms and lubricants etc.

Subsection (2) (a) provides that (A’s) previous meetings or communications with the child can have taken place in or across any part of the world. This would cover for example (A) emailing the child from abroad, (A) and the child speaking on the telephone abroad, or (A) meeting the child abroad. The travel to the meeting itself must at least partly take place in England or Wales or Northern Ireland.


4. Guidance upon the Discovery of Indecent Images of Children

Many professionals working within different organisations have increased access to the Internet or World Wide Web via a range of tools and devices, therefore the opportunity for internet misuse also grows.

All organisations should have clear set policies and procedures in place, backed up with guidance and training, addressing the issue of employees accessing indecent images of children. Managers should have a clear understanding of what procedure to follow should they be informed that one of their staff members is suspected of accessing such images on a works computer/device.  It is recommended that organisations are aware of the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) best practice guide for dealing with indecent images of children within the workplace.

It is a criminal act under Section 1 of the Protection of Children Act 1978 for any person to make and distribute indecent images of children. These are arrestable offences.

Upon the receipt of any information concerning a person or persons suspected of this kind of activity, the department head/manager/designated person should notify the Police (Child and Public Protection Unit) immediately. No downloading or distribution of any images should be completed, either internally or externally within the organisation, as this will leave the individuals responsible open to criminal investigation.

The computer or device should be left and not used by anyone, allowing this to be seized as evidence for forensic examination by the Police. The details of all persons having access to the computer/device should be made available to allow a clear evidence trail to be established.


5. Referral and Strategy Discussion

Where there is suspected or actual evidence of anyone accessing or creating indecent images of children, this must be referred to the Police and Specialist Children’s Services (Kent)/Children’s Social Care Services (Medway).

Where there are concerns about a child being groomed, exposed to pornographic or inappropriate material or contacted by someone inappropriately, via the Internet or other devices such as a  mobile phone, referrals should be made to the Police and to Local Authority Children’s Services.

Due to the nature of this type of abuse and the possibility of the destruction of evidence, the referrer should first discuss their concerns with the Police and Specialist Children’s Services (Kent)/Children’s Social Care Services (Medway) before raising the matter with the family. This will enable a joint decision to be made about informing the family and ensuring that the child’s welfare is safeguarded.

All such reports should be taken seriously. Most referrals will be followed by an Child and Family Assessment and information should be shared between the Police and Local Authority Children’s Services in order to determine whether a Strategy Discussion should take place. 

A Strategy Discussion and any Section 47 Enquiry and Child and Family Assessment must carefully consider:

  • Is there a child who has suffered, or is likely to suffer, Significant Harm e.g. the child in the image or a child in the household?
  • What is the impact on the child in the image/in the household in terms of risks and their needs?
  • Are there other children visiting the household?  What is the impact on them? 
  • Is the child about to meet with the person inappropriately contacting them?
  • Is the person accessing images or creating them in contact with children in their workplace?
  • Is the person inappropriately contacting the child in contact with children in their workplace?
  • Is the person accessing or creating images involved in voluntary work, youth work or any other activity involving positions of trust?
  • Is the person inappropriately contacting the child involved in voluntary work, youth work or any other activity involving a position of trust?
  • What is the timescale for a forensic investigation of any computer equipment?
  • If the person is to be investigated, how should their contact with children be managed in the meantime, in the workplace and/or at home?
  • Should other procedures, such as the Allegations Against Persons who Work with Children Procedure be triggered?
  • Is the other parent or any other carer in the household able to protect the child? What support networks do they have?
  • What are the implications of the likely delay in the criminal investigations?

Intervention should be continually under review if further evidence comes to light.


6. Outcome of the Section 47 Enquiry

Where the enquiries have revealed that there are children in the household or in regular contact with the household about whom there are concerns that they may have suffered, or are likely to suffer, Significant Harm, an Initial Child Protection Conference must be convened within 15 working days of the last Strategy Discussion at which the Section 47 Enquiry was initiated.

Where there are no children identified as suffering, or likely to suffer, Significant Harm in relation to the adult, the Police will continue with investigations in order to establish the identity of the child/ren in the images if at all possible. The National Police Child Abuse and Internet Specialist Services (CEOP and the Internet Watch Foundation) will be informed as appropriate.

Where there are no children identified in the adult’s household or immediate home environment but the adult is in contact with children in other settings such as work or other activities, the relevant procedure such as the Allegations Against Persons who Work with Children Procedure should be followed.

Where the person, who is alleged to have accessed or created the indecent images or groomed another child, is a child, action under the Children Who Exhibit Harmful Behaviour including Sexual Harm (Assessing and Providing Interventions) - Kent Only Procedure should be considered.


7. Sexting

With increasing use of online media and technology (such as mobile phones, games consoles, social networking sites, instant messaging and webcams) children and adults need to be aware that  it is a crime to take, make, permit to take, distribute, show,  possess, possess with intent to distribute, or to advertise indecent photographs or pseudo-photographs of any person below the age of 18 as per section 1 of the Protection of Children Act 1978, as amended by section 45 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 to extend the definition of children from under 16s to under 18s.

There are a number of definitions of “sexting” but it can typically be defined as a child or young person (under the age of 18) taking an indecent image of themselves, and sending it via a mobile phone or some other form of technology. Children and young people need to be aware that they may be breaking the law when taking and distributing “sexts” but prosecution will usually only take place when it is considered to be in the public’s best interest. The current National Police Chief's Council (NPCC) position is that:

‘ACPO does not support the prosecution or criminalisation of children for taking indecent images of themselves and sharing them. Being prosecuted through the criminal justice system is likely to be upsetting and distressing for children especially if they are convicted and punished. The label of sex offender that would be applied to a child or young person convicted of such offences is regrettable, unjust and clearly detrimental to their future health and wellbeing.’

For further details see ACPO CPAI Briefing: Lead's Position on Young People who Post Self-Taken Indecent Images.

The consequences of sexting can also have long term and devastating effects for children and young people. It can lead to isolation, depression, self-harming, suicide, self-esteem issues and can also leave children vulnerable to exploitation by their peers or by offenders.

For more information please see Medway Council’s Sexting Toolkit and Risk Assessment Tool for Young People Engaged in Potentially Harmful Sexting.


8. Actions to be taken where an Employee has Concerns about a Colleague

Where an employee has either information or reason to suspect that a colleague is accessing indecent images of children, grooming children or using technology in an illegal or inappropriate way the following procedures must be followed:

  1. The employee with the concerns must inform his/her own line manager the same working day;
  2. Where the concerns are about the line manager, then the employee should go straight to the next in line senior manager, or any other senior manager, within the same working day;
  3. The manager who receives the information should ensure the computer in question is appropriately secured, and that it is not used by any other employee;
  4. The Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) must be contacted the same day;
  5. Where an employee does not feel confident in informing any available line manager, then the agency’s own whistle-blowing procedures should be used;
  6. The LADO and the manager will ensure that the Police Child & Public Protection Unit is contacted and actions agreed the same working day;
  7. Identified senior managers will discuss and agree appropriate immediate actions regarding the employee subject to the allegations. There should be liaison with the LADO and the views of the police should be canvassed to inform the decision;
  8. The Local Authority Designated Officer will ensure the Child Protection Procedures are followed, including the Allegations Against Persons who Work with Children Procedure, where appropriate.

End