8.29 Online Safety
Last reviewed in September 2019
Next review in September 2022
- Child abuse and the digital environment
- Online grooming and abuse
- Additional guidance for Peer to Peer online grooming and abuse
- Guidance upon the discovery of Indecent Images of children
- Professional response
- Responding to sexting / youth produced sexual imagery
- Further information
Child abuse and the digital environment
Digital or Online Abuse includes:
The digital environment can be accessed through a variety of mediums, including: mobile and smart phones, laptops, computers, tablets, webcams, cameras and games consoles.
Online abuse includes online-bullying. This is when a child is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child, adult or groups of individuals via digital technology. In any case of severe bullying it may be appropriate to consider the behaviour as child abuse.
Sexting, or youth produced sexual imagery, describes the use of technology to share indecent images or videos of a sexual nature which young people have taken of themselves. The content can vary, from images of partial nudity, to sexual images or video. Sexting can range from consensual sharing to exploitation. Sharing images of children in this way is illegal.
Online safety is a generic term that refers to raising awareness about how children, young people and adults can protect themselves when using digital technology /in the online environment, and provides examples of interventions that can reduce the level of risk for children and young people.
All organisations should have Acceptable Use policies and procedures for staff and volunteers.
Related chapters include Complex (Organised or Multiple) Abuse, Allegations Against Persons who Work with, care for or volunteer with children, Sexual Exploitation and Children Vulnerable to Violent Extremism
Online grooming and abuse
Social networking sites and online gaming can be used by perpetrators as an easy way to access children and young people for sexual abuse, including sexual exploitation, or to attract children and young people into extremist ideology.
Perpetrators use a number of grooming techniques including building a relationship of trust with a child, the use of enticements, or coercion and / or blackmail. Perpetrators may create different online personas to draw the child in. This can be followed by the perpetrator encouraging the child to meet with them, encouraging them to undertake harmful actions, or engaging the chid in more intimate forms of communication, for example through the use of images and webcams.
Under Section 15 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 it is an offence for a person aged 18 or over to meet intentionally, or to travel with the intention of meeting, a child aged under 16 in any part of the world, if s/he has met or communicated with the child on at least one earlier occasion, and intends to commit a “relevant offence” against that child either at the time of the meeting or on a subsequent occasion.
Section 15 is intended to cover situations where an adult establishes contact with a child through, e.g. meetings, telephone conversations or communications on the internet, such as social media or gaming.
“Relevant Offence” refers to any offence defined under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, involving sexual activity/assault and/or criminal conduct.
The Serious Crime Act (2015) has introduced an offence of sexual communication with a child. This applies to an adult who communicates with a child and the communication is sexual or if it is intended to elicit from the child a communication which is sexual and the adult reasonably believes the child to be under16 years of age.
It is a criminal act under Section 1 of the Protection of Children Act 1978 for any person to make and distribute indecent images of children. These are arrestable offences.
Additional guidance for Peer to Peer online grooming and abuse
In some instances the online abuser may be another child. The interests of the identified victim must always be the paramount consideration. However, whenever a child may have abused another, all agencies must be aware of their responsibilities to both individuals, and multi-agency management of the case must reflect this. See the Children who Harm other Children procedure
Guidance upon the discovery of Indecent Images of children
Upon the receipt of any information concerning a person who is suspected of accessing indecent images of children online, their employer should notify the Police immediately.
The device should be kept safe and not used by anyone. It should be made available to the Police as evidence for forensic examination, along with the details of all persons having access to the device.
Child abuse often comes to light through accidental discovery and there may have been little or no previous suspicion of the perpetrator. This can make accepting the fact of the abuse difficult for those who know and trust the individual, and partners, colleagues and friends may find the abuse very difficult to believe and may require support.
The Professional Response flowchart outlines the steps to take when online safeguarding concerns arise
Additional guidance outlining what to consider when undertaking a strategy discussion or Section 47 enquirities in relation to online grooming and abuse, can be found here: Pan Sussex Online Safety procedure considerations for strategy discussions and enquiries 2017
Responding to sexting / youth produced sexual imagery
See UKCCIS Sexting guidance for schools and colleges: Responding to incidents and safeguarding young people. This guidance covers a variety of issues, including: responding to disclosures, handling devices and imagery, risk assessing situations, involving other agencies (including escalation to the police and children’s social care), recording incidents, involving parents and preventative education.
The Police response to youth produced sexual imagery is outlined here: Police Action in response to Youth Produced Sexual Imagery
For further information go to: