Those of you who follow my blog know that I usually take a tongue in cheek approach to parenting, but the reality is – strip this all away and I have a deep seated fear of the possibilities of the years to come as a mother, and what the future holds for my daughter. And not without grounds it seems…
New figures from NSPCC’s Childline reveal that the number of counselling sessions for children worried about online sexual abuse rose last year (2015-16) by 24%. Most of these were aged 12-15 and almost two-thirds were girls. One in eight of the sessions – related specifically to grooming, an increase of 21%.
In light of these figures the NSPCC are launching a campaign called Listen To Your Selfie, which is aimed at helping young people recognise the signs of grooming and unhealthy relationships, both online and offline. It features two films where selfies come to life and question a situation – The Game focuses on a same-sex online grooming scenario – and The Party highlights peer to peer sexual pressure and grooming, the latter of which you can watch below..
Leslie’s* daughters Abigail* and Kathryn* were groomed by a man
…..who lied to them about his age and sent them explicit messages. *This is a true story but names have been changed to protect the identities of those involved.
“I first found out that something was wrong when I found a text message from my eldest daughter Abigail*, who was 17, to her younger sister Kathryn*, who was 12. I regularly checked both girls’ phones to keep an eye on who they were talking to and the text message didn’t seem right. I questioned Kathryn about the text message and she told me that Abigail was talking to an older man. I could tell from her body language that something wasn’t right and that she was afraid to tell me what was going on.
I managed to get it out of them that Abigail had met a 42 year old called Pete* on an online dating website and had been speaking to him over Facebook. He encouraged Abigail to buy a new sim card so that he could speak to her on the phone without anyone else knowing.
When he called her, he could hear that there were people in the background and he asked who they were. When Abigail said it was her younger sisters he encouraged her to buy Kathryn a new sim card too. He told her that he had a 17 year old friend called Marcus* who would like to speak to her.
Marcus started speaking to both of the girls and the conversation soon turned very sexual. He knew that Kathryn was only 12 but he was asking her what size her bra was and what type of underwear she liked to wear. He said that he wanted to have sex with both of them at the same time. When Abigail reminded him that Kathryn was only 12 he said: “I know she’s only 12 but I’m not going to hurt her. I won’t do anything she doesn’t want to do. It can start with just a bit of a play around.”
When I heard about it all I was horrified. I’d found the message and questioned the girls on the Friday and he’d arranged to meet the girls out of school on the Monday and take them off with him. I reported it to the police and they found out that it was still the 42 man speaking to both of the girls pretending to be 17 so it would have been him that had gone to meet the girls and tried to take them with him.
I was terrified that as well as knowing what school they went to, he might know where the girls lived and come to the house. I quickly moved us away from the area to live with relatives as I didn’t know if he’d keep trying to pursue the girls. It all happened so quickly, he’d only been talking to them for a few weeks before he arranged to meet them. I used to keep a close eye on the girls but they were both hiding it from me as this man had groomed them both. He’d also promised to buy them the world and told them not to tell anyone they were talking to him
He admitted the offences against Abigail but not Kathryn, who had been so upset by everything that happened that she destroyed the sim card.
She was devastated as she’d been through this too but she felt like people didn’t believe her. It killed her self-esteem and she started self-harming. It was heart-breaking to see her like that and I knew she needed help. We got help from the NSPCC’s Letting the Future In programme which helps victims of sexual offences. Kathryn got a lot out of it and really opened up to her NSPCC workers about what happened. Even now when I ask Kathryn about it a shield goes up and she doesn’t want to talk about it to me as I’m her mum so I’m glad she was able to talk to the NSPCC. I’m still not over it all now as it really scares me how close he came to meeting them but the girls are trying to move on so I need to be strong for both of them.
A few years ago I thought that I knew everything about online technology. I used to use social media and chat rooms regularly. But things change so quickly and now I don’t know that much and wouldn’t know where to start with giving advice to my children on it. It’s madness how many sites there are out there now that young people use. I couldn’t find any information about how to keep my girls safe so I welcome the NSPCC’s guide which could teach me about the different types of social media and websites that young people use. It will help parents know about the dangers so that they can educate their children. I was a strict mum anyway when it came to my girls going online but I’m even more strict now and make sure none of them have passwords on their phones.
I think the law should definitely change so that adults are committing an offence from the first time they send a sexual message to a child. It shouldn’t be allowed to go on and be able to develop into a situation where the young person is at danger; they should be protected right away.”
So you see, it’s as easy as that – children can find it hard to know whether they are being manipulated in a way that is unsavoury, and parents can find it hard to know that it is happening.
Thankfully, children and young people can contact Childline for free, confidential support and advice, 24 hours a day on 0800 1111 or at www.childline.org.uk and above all, they should #ListenToYourSelfie.