What is online harm?
Simply put, online harm is any behaviour online that causes physical, emotional or sexual harm.
Online sexual harm includes:
- Sexual abuse and exploitation
- Grooming: Someone befriends a child and builds trust so they can sexually influence them
- Sending or receiving sexual photos or messages
- Sextortion: Someone threatens to publish sexual images or information about another unless they do what they say
- Encouraging a child access adult pornography websites.
How is it different from exploitation offline?
We know that sexual abuse is harmful regardless of where it takes place. Despite the similarities between online and offline sexual abuse, there are some differences.
Online interactions can give the offender greater access to the child. Abuse can occur even while family members are in the background, downstairs or in another room.
Content is recorded and shared
Often, an element to online sexual abuse is it is recorded and shared. This adds to harm of the child because it can spread further. As such, children might feel embarrassed or ashamed, blaming themselves for the abuse. They might become anxious, worrying the offender will share the pictures or videos with others.
Survivors of online sexual abuse are often fearful that images of them will ‘resurface’. This fear can stay with them into adulthood.
How do offenders target young people online?
Offenders are skilled and motivated to target children through the internet. They can be of any gender, age or sexual orientation and gain access to a child by manipulating or grooming them.
What is grooming?
Grooming is when an offender interacts online with a child by taking an interest in them. The groomer will form a friendship with them and learn about their interests, home, family and friendship groups.
During this process, the offender tests out a child’s response. It could start subtly and then move into more sexual or coercive conversations. However, the offender could also try to coerce the child more directly. If they’re unsuccessful, they might move onto another child.
Where do groomers contact children?
As in the offline world, offenders go where children are. Some groomers pretend to be someone else or younger. However, not all offenders do this.
Groomers might contact children via social media, gaming and other popular apps. Offenders target both boys and girls from across all age ranges regardless of the children’s backgrounds.
What can I do if my child is harmed?
Try to stay calm. Your child will likely feel vulnerable, and they need to know you are on their side. Try the CARES approach if you have concerns about the content your child is sharing, viewing or uploading:
C – Calm, non-judgemental listening. Fake it if you have to! Make it clear you do not blame them.
A – Ask open questions and assess – give time and avoid asking ‘why?’
R – Reassure and give information and support. Reassurance does not mean saying it will all be okay. Reflect back feelings and acknowledge how hard this must be. This is a moment in time and recovery is possible.
E – Enter their model of reality; see how it feels for them. There is likely to be conflict and doubt. Do not worry if they would rather talk to someone else.
S – Seek support and self-care. Do not blame yourself. Contact relevant professionals for advice.
Remember: how you react influences your child. Keeping calm will help them do the same.