My name is Catherine Arkley and I am chair of Safe and Sound - a local charity which specialises in tackling child sexual exploitation and abuse through individual support for children and young people across Derbyshire.
Recently Safe and Sound has joined hundreds of organisations across the world for Safer Internet Day, which highlighted the potential dangers of the internet – particularly for children and young people.
This initiative was crucial due to the growing prevalence of criminals using the internet to groom children and young people for their own purposes.
Our specialist support workers are currently working with around 65 children and young people aged between ten and 18 across Derbyshire who have been victims or who are at risk of online grooming and exploitation.
More than half of them have experienced or are at risk of online grooming in various guises.
Online grooming is a particularly manipulative form of child sexual exploitation and abuse and is a growing threat with the increasing use of social media.
People are not always who they say they are online. At first they may seem friendly and will always find something in common with the young person which is the start of the grooming process.
This initial contact can turn far more sinister – asking the young person to send inappropriate photos and webcam images or persuading them to meet up.
Our team works on a one-to-one basis with young people to help them recognise the dangers that the internet can pose to them and to better recognise the warning signs of grooming.
Our awareness sessions in local communities also highlight the importance of parents and carers ensuring that young people have privacy settings on all social media networks, mobile apps and games and where they can get support if they are worried.
Our key message to children and young people is that they are not to blame for online grooming. Young people need to know that they will not be punished for what they have said or done online but will be listened to and it will be taken seriously.
Inappropriate online behaviour should be reported to the police and young people and their families can also contact Safe and Sound for advice and support at www.safeandsoundgroup.org.uk.