As the nation undergoes social isolation, children are turning increasingly to their devices for entertainment, to connect with friends and for educational purposes. While online mediums can increase connection, they also increase children’s exposure to the potential risk of exploitation. A recent episode of A Current Affair explored the intersection between cybersafety and COVID-19. The episode is a response to the alarming new statistics related to child online abuse by sexual predators in the age of COVID-19.
AFP Federal Agent Leisa James reported on the episode that offenders are increasingly turning to the online world to target their victims. Lesa Gale, Assistant Commissioner of the AFP, outlined that reports of child abuse have more than doubled since lockdown restrictions were imposed, with an extra 1,000 reports being made per month. “Sex offenders who used to trawl the real world for victims are now searching online”, and are even exchanging notes titled “COVID” on the dark-web.
Leisa James spoke about how the police investigate thousands of reports of online child abuse at a time, with the most critical reports being handled as top priority. Children at imminent risk have their reports acted upon immediately.
Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton, also features on the episode. Peter Dutton visits the new Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation, a 70 million dollar facility located in Brisbane. At a time when reports of online child abuse are skyrocketing, the Centre is providing a coordinated response to investigating these reports.
With modern technology advancing at extraordinary rates, online predators have always been a cause for concern, particularly for parents whose children are constantly exposed to the online world. With COVID-19 heightening this risk even more, parents need to warn their children to be careful online. Leisa James, a mother herself, offered the following message to parents: “trust your children to come to talk to you about any mistakes they may have made online”. When children having a trusting relationship with their parents, they are more likely to communicate any issues or uncomfortable experiences they may have online.
For further discussion and advice on how you can protect your child’s safety online, listen to our podcast featuring Managing Partner Sally Nicholes, Lesley Podesta, CEO of the Alannah & Madeline Foundation and Lesa Gale, available here: https://soundcloud.com/nicholesfamilylawyers/cybersafety