Cyber-blackmail: why are sex abusers targeting UK children?
Young people forced to perform 'slave-like' sex acts live on webcam by sexual abusers
CHILDREN as young as eight are being blackmailed into performing "slave-like" sex acts live on webcam, while others are forced to self-harm or send cash to their abusers. Research released today by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) centre has revealed a worrying trend in young people committing suicide as a result. Here's what you need to know...
How does 'cyber-blackmailing' happen? Abusers strike up conversation with children on open chat sites and social networks. Posing as young people, they quickly lure their victim into a private online area, where conversations turn sexual. After persuading the child to send them naked pictures of themselves, the offender begins blackmailing them for more indecent images or videos – or in some cases for cash. Some children have been forced to write degrading statements on their body or to cut themselves live on webcam.
Who are the cyber-blackmailers? The perpetrators are usually "calculating, computer-savvy men aged between 20 and 44; some act alone, others as part of an organised network", says BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw. In the past two years, CEOP has been involved in 12 cyber-blackmailing operations, which involved abusers from four continents. In five of the cases, the criminals were based in the UK.
Why do they do it? Experts say most of the blackmailers are motivated by sexual desire and sadism, and in a few cases by extortion. Dr Elly Farmer, a clinical psychologist, tells The Independent: "There is a desire for power and control, and getting a kick out of causing as much pain as possible."
Who are the victims? In the 12 CEOP cases, 184 out of the 424 children involved were from the UK. The biggest case, known as Operation K, involved 322 children around the world being blackmailed, including 96 from the UK. The victims were mainly boys aged 11 to 15, who were targeted by a gang from a non-European country. The suspects are due to stand trial in the next few weeks.
Why are UK children being targeted? UK children have been disproportionately targeted because they can speak English, says Stephanie McCourt, CEOP operations manager. Secondly, she says, offenders "have actually said that because they perceive the UK as a very free and open and liberal society, they think that they will have more success in targeting UK children".
What are the repercussions? In the last two years at least seven children have seriously self-harmed themselves or attempted to commit suicide, including six from the UK, after being cyber-blackmailed. Seven children took their own lives, including 17-year-old Daniel Perry, from Dunfermline, Fife. He threw himself from the Forth Road Bridge in July this year after blackmailers tricked him into thinking he was chatting with a girl his own age from the US and threatened to share the conversation with his family and friends unless he gave them thousands of pounds.
How can 'cyber-blackmailing' be stopped? CEOP says it is using the latest technology and intelligence, and working with police around the world to catch child sex abusers. Meanwhile, John Cameron, the head of the NSPCC helpline, says: "We need to educate young people but also reassure them that no matter what threats people make to them over the internet, they can be stopped and the crime they are committing is very serious and can result in a lengthy jail sentence." ·