On Safer Internet Day, today, 6th February 2024, the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland (SBNI) are raising awareness of the dangers for children online.
Sadly, online sexual offences against children are becoming an increasing crime type in Northern Ireland. There were 2,300 sexual offences against children recorded in 2023, 200 of which relate to grooming and sexual communication with a child.
848 offences relating to taking, possessing, sharing or publishing indecent images of children were reported in 2023, a 40.6% increase on 2022.
Zoe (not her real name), is the parent of two children from Northern Ireland who were victims of online sexual abuse at the hands of someone they had met online. She has now spoken out publicly warning other parents. She says: “It’s been really tough. You never think something like this will ever happen to your children.
“I had no idea what was going on until the Police contacted me saying they had evidence to believe my children had been groomed online by someone they had met on Snapchat, who was pretending to be a child around the same age as them.
“As a parent, hearing that was devastating. Totally earth shattering. You don’t see this happening at the time, you don’t pick up on the warning signs and at that time my children also didn’t understand that they had been victims of crime.
“It’s had a huge impact on our family. I continue to grieve the life they could have had, had they not went through this and their innocence taken from them.
“Looking back, there were changes in their behaviour. They became more withdrawn and secretive. This is something I wish I had addressed and asked more questions about. I would urge other parents out there to not be afraid to have open and transparent conversations with their children to warn them that not everybody online is who they say they are.”