While the internet has brought many positive changes for communication, it has also provided a platform for online grooming, with NSPCC’s chief executive Peter Wanless dubbing it a “playground for paedophiles”.
To tackle the growing issue of online sexual exploitation in minors, Childline has launched a #ListenToYourSelfie campaign, funded by BBC Children In Need and created by award-winning creative agency Don’t Panic, with the aim of helping young people recognise sexual exploitation early.
The campaign came to fruition as a result of new figures from Childline that show the number of counselling sessions for children worried about online sexual abuse rose last year by 24 per cent. Most of these were aged 12 to 15-years-old and almost two-thirds were girls.
It consists of two films; The Party which is aimed at girls and highlights peer-to-peer relationship abuse; and The Game which is aimed at boys, who are also at risk of sexual exploitation, and focuses on a same-sex online grooming scenario.
It will launch across social platforms Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat to ensure it reaches children and teenagers everywhere. The intention is to help children and teenagers recognise the signs of grooming and unhealthy relationships, both online and offline.
The films centre around two protagonists in potentially threatening situations with a choice of whether to continue or stop. The films urges the viewer to make the right decision for them and to contact Childline if they are in need.
To increase authenticity, Don’t Panic improvised a lot of the live-action to capture “that genuine awkwardness and confusion we all remember going through”, said Joe Wade, managing director and co-founder of Don’t Panic.
Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC, said: “Most of us talk to people online and it’s a great way to stay connected and make new friends. But it can be a playground for paedophiles, exposing young people to groomers who trawl social networks and online game forums exploiting any vulnerabilities they may find.
“Young people may not understand what is right or wrong in a relationship, or what to do if something makes them feel uncomfortable, online or offline. ‘Listen To Your Selfie’ is aimed at helping young people recognise signs they are being manipulated, controlled or exploited so they feel empowered to make their own decisions or choices. We hope that by putting this in the spotlight we can help young people to feel able to speak up if they feel worried or scared about a situation or relationship.”
Childline founder, Esther Rantzen said: “The internet has brought many positive changes, for instance, most of Childline’s contacts from children and young people are now online. But it has also brought dangers, and online grooming is a real risk. Very often young people tell us of their feelings of shame because they don’t recognize that they are not to blame, one young person who had been persuaded to send explicit pictures of herself told us ‘I walked myself into this mess, I couldn’t ask for help.’
“It can be very hard for young people to identify that they are being manipulated or exploited, or to recognise that something is not right. We want children and young people to know that Childline is there for them, whatever their worry, to answer any questions and offer support and advice.”