County-wide campaign aims to raise awareness of online child exploitation

An Essex-wide campaign focusing on preventing the exploitation of children online is due to launch on August 24.

Online exploitation has been a growing concern for several years, with the internet and social media becoming so integral to daily lives. For children, the internet has become the new classroom and playground and this has been amplified during the COVID-19 lockdown period. Sadly, there are people out there that take advantage of this.

For this reason, the Southend Safeguarding Partnership, Thurrock Local Safeguarding Children Board and Essex Safeguarding Children Board are working with their respective local authorities and organisations including Essex Police, The Children’s Society, Barnardos and The 2 Johns, to raise awareness of the exploitation risks that increased time on the internet can pose.

The campaign will encourage parents to take an active interest in their child’s online world, give them the confidence to speak openly about the dangers and give them knowledge of what to do if something isn’t right. It aims to challenge the perception that the victim is to blame, instead creating a supportive network around the child, in which they feel able to speak openly about concerns they may have.

Running from August 24- 30, topics such as online gaming, youth produced sexual images and online bullying will be covered in a series of online livestreams, podcasts and videos. Information on the subjects covered, along with links to various resources, can be found here: www.escb.co.uk/onlineexploitation

Southend-Council was recently shortlisted for an MJ Local Government Achievement Award in the category of “Transforming Lives” for their See The Signs project, which looks to safeguard children and young people at risk of exploitation. This online specific campaign will form part of See The Signs for the borough of Southend-on-Sea.

Cllr Anne Jones, cabinet member for children and learning at Southend Council said: “The use of the internet has become commonplace in all walks of life, especially during the coronavirus pandemic. Using social media and mobile apps to communicate is second nature to many children these days.

“However, many children and parents are not fully aware of the dangers. Online exploitation is a horrific crime and can have a significant impact on the lives of the individuals, families and communities involved.

“I am pleased that Southend-on-Sea Borough Council, along with other local authorities, Essex Police and partner organisations across Essex, are tackling the subject as part of our See The Signs campaign.

“We hope the content planned for the week will help parents to recognise the signs of online exploitation and enable them to feel more informed when talking to their children about the risks.

“Together we can support children and parents to be aware of the dangers and know there is someone to talk to if they’re worried or concerned.”

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Mick Ferris

Editor Email: [email protected]