How sexual predators groom children online and what parents can do

Child sexual predators use social media, apps and games to contact children. File Picture
Child sexual predators use social media, apps and games to contact children. File Picture

Sexual predators are now increasingly using popular online games, apps and social media to groom and talk to children, a new campaign to fight underage sexual abuse has revealed.

Predators aim to solicit sexual images or video, or to physically harm a child.

Police are warning parents that games, social media and apps such as TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, Discord, Likee, Kik Tellonyn, Whispr, Minecraft and House Party - or any app that has a chat option - are being misused by child predators.

Research by eSafety has revealed one in four young people have been contacted by a stranger online.

That's why Crime Stoppers and NSW Police Force have joined with the eSafety Commissioner's office for the first time to launch a child protection campaign to combat child sexual abuse and unwanted contact online.

The education and awareness campaign, aimed at parents and carers, will run as a pilot in NSW.

The eSafety Commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, wants everyone to be more aware of the dangers to children online, and the strategies for reducing risks and reporting suspect digital behaviour.

"Child abuse and exploitation can happen online," she said.

"The predator could be a stranger, online 'friends' your child has not met face-to-face, or someone they actually know.

"We are asking parents to talk to their child before a predator does and make sure that parents are armed with the right responses and strategies."

Crime Stoppers has released a guide on its website on ways parents can talk to their children about online safety and sexual predators. Picture: Crime Stoppers

Crime Stoppers has released a guide on its website on ways parents can talk to their children about online safety and sexual predators. Picture: Crime Stoppers

Child sexual abuse material consists of images, videos and live streamed footage that shows the sexual abuse or sexual exploitation of children.

The content can range from children posing in sexually suggestive ways through to 'contact' offences involving direct sexual assault.

In such cases, the predator is generally known to the child.

However, an increasing number of cases investigated by police involve the sexual exploitation of children online by a stranger.

NSW Crime Stoppers executive officer Peter Price said the information provided by the community made a valuable contribution in helping to stop, solve and prevent crime.

"Reporting these crimes enable authorities to shut down the illegal content and catch the offenders," he said.

"We are asking parents to closely monitor their child's online activity.

"If they see or suspect anything of a suspicious or uncomfortable nature, say something."

The campaign educates parents on ways to protect children from unwanted contact such as by making their social media accounts private; deleting requests from strangers; knowing which sites, apps and chat services they are using; and build a trusting relationship.

The warning signs from an online 'friend' include asking questions about personal information soon after meeting; asking for favours; wanting to keep the relationship a secret; making contact in several ways, giving compliments and insisting on meeting face-to-face.

Parents are encouraged to pay attention to changes in a child's behaviour or mood. They should reassure their child is not in trouble; explain that adults get tricked into doing things they regret; talk to them without being angry or judgment; and do not cut off their internet as they may be seen as a punishment.

To report unwanted contact, parents should take screenshots of the material including dates and times, and report it to the social media platform, local police station and Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.