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Did you know the number of children exploited online doubles between the ages of 11 and 12-years-old?
This means secondary school children are most at risk, particularly as they begin to explore social media and online gaming more.
We're are asking you to think, spot, and speak out against child exploitation on National Child Exploitation Awareness Day, Saturday 18 March, and beyond.
The day aims to highlight and raise awareness of the signs of exploitation and directs victims, or concerned loved ones, on where they can go for help.
We recognise that protecting your children from online apps, games and social media platforms may sometimes feel like an uphill struggle.
With our online presence being a part of our everyday lives, we all have a part to play in helping to safeguard our children from those who use these platforms to cause harm and exploit them.
We have several specialised teams at Essex Police who work to help safeguard children and catch those who wish to cause them harm. We spoke to Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Dan Morrisey who oversees the proactive teams.
As part of our Crime and Public Protection Command, the proactive teams are made up of officers and staff all work towards helping vulnerable people in Essex by managing the risk around offenders.
The MOSOVO Team and The Proactive orders enforcement Team manage offenders who are subject to different prevention orders. This could include Registered Sex Offenders (RSO) and Registered Violent Offenders in the community. Part of their role is to monitor these individuals and will travel miles to make sure regular visits are carried out to ensure the requirements are being followed. This can include checking mobile and computer devices.
The Police Online Investigation Team focus on identifying online predators who groom young people and make and share images of child sexual abuse.
When talking about the work the team undertakes, DCI Morrisey said:
“Everything we do is victim focused. We know that reporting and talking about subjects such as children being groomed or sexually exploited takes courage.
“Sometimes, victims are not always able or willing to speak out due to their circumstances. We're able to give these investigations, which can be complex and lengthy, the increased focus they need and provide the best support possible.”
Prevention and safeguarding children are at the centre of their work, proactively manage offenders to reduce the risk they pose to the community and children within the community.
DCI Morrisey went on to say: “Part of our role is to work with local communities, services and agencies to help build the bigger picture.
“For some cases it can be like a giant puzzle with different services all having one or two pieces of information that don’t fit together. When we work, we are able to see patterns emerge, ensure the right agency takes action and we get people the help they need.
“We know the more time children spend online, means that sadly the more opportunities there are for people to exploit them.”
In December last year, we launched a new webpage called Sort Your Settings. It was designed to give practical tips to parents or guardians to help make their children’s online devices safer.
This includes how to check, change, or update parental controls, plus information about game ratings, social media and more.
We know that there can be a fear of not being believed or feeling embarrassed when it comes to reporting.
DCI Morrisey said: “The biggest piece of advice I can give to any parent or guardian is to start the conversation early. Ask them to show you their favourite TikTok video or teach you how to play their favourite online game.”
Giving your child the space to talk about being online from a young age could help them as they grow up and start to increase their online interactions.
It is not always easy to spot the signs of exploitation, especially when it might be taking place online. Some children may not even realise they are being groomed when they are offered in-game gifts, credited money or even just enjoying a new friendship.
Some of the more physical and emotional signs to look for could include a dramatic change in appearance, acting more secretively, unexplained injuries and going missing from home and school.
There is also a wide range of information available and most social media platforms have dedicated areas on their websites.
The Essex Safeguarding Children’s Board website contains lots of practical advice on a variety of child safety issues, including advice on how to bring the subject into normal everyday life.