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28 Mar 2018

Stamping out online grooming in 2018

Online grooming is a subject that keeps many of us up at night and with good reason. In the UK, instances of online child sex abuse have increased by 700% since 2014 - that’s a staggering amount.

In recent years there have been a number of initiatives set out to tackle this issue and online safety more widely, and last year we saw the Sexual Communication with a Child Act come into force. Yet even since then, we have still seen 1,300 cases of sexual communication with a child.

The access children today have to digital devices and online platforms has risen tremendously, and as it stands, 41% of 5-15 year olds own a smartphone and 44% own a tablet. Although this increase in digital access children have comes with many positives - from connecting them to friends and family, providing games for mental stimulus and enjoyment, as well as educational purposes - it has also meant children today are becoming increasingly vulnerable and open targets to groomers and bullies.

In fact, recent research found the social media networks Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat are most commonly used to groom children. It is not surprising, therefore, that we are seeing an urgent cry to take more forceful action to protect children from these online predators. Most recently, NSPCC called for a mandatory code to regulate social media and tackle online grooming.

Our recent research found almost four in ten (39%) of teachers are concerned with online grooming, but 62% of them don’t feel fully supported to teach children about online safety. That is why having monitoring to safeguard children is so crucial. It can help teachers – as well as moderators of websites and social media platforms – become aware of any alarming online activity, and are able to make an informed decision and alert the relevant people.

With the wealth of analytics and data available to social media companies, this should be bread and butter for those platforms wanting to make a stand on online safety. Any monitoring that occurs when children are online will be done contextually and appropriately to protect their online experience. Contextual monitoring builds a picture of what is happening and is able to make an informed decision on whether the signs indeed point to online grooming.

Technology can and must be a force for good if we’re to have any chance of combatting these issues. When it comes to the protection of children in today’s digital age and dealing with such seismic and scarring issues such as online grooming, the onus can’t lie with one party. It needs to be a collaborative effort between all those who have a responsibility to our children, from the government, educational institutions, parents and social media platform providers.

Only by working together can we ensure that we have a unified front that is able to effectively crack down on the problem. But we need to ensure that all parties must feel fully supported to do so. We should use all the technology and means we have available to ensure the online environments of young people are kept as safe and secure as possible. 

For more information on how Smoothwall's monitoring solutions can protect your users, request to speak to one of our Education specialists. Previously featured in Education Today.

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