Column: Be vigilant about who your children are talking to online

Pride Month this June is a hugely positive movement but we must also be aware that young people who are questioning or exploring their sexuality are particularly vulnerable to online grooming and exploitation, writes Tracy Harrison.

By Tracy Harrison
Thursday, 23rd June 2022, 10:00 am

Our workload across Derbyshire has doubled since the start of the pandemic – particularly due to the increased support needed for children and young people who are victims of or at risk of online grooming.

Our specialist team has worked with more young people who have gone online to find answers to their questions about LGBTQ+ – making them more vulnerable to sexual predators.

Online grooming could happen to any child or young person. However, if an LGBTQ+ child or young person hasn’t come out or feels their gender identity or sexuality needs to be kept secret, perpetrators can take advantage of this to prevent the child from telling anyone about the relationship or to coerce them into meeting offline without telling anyone else.

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Tracy Harrison, CEO of Safe and Sound.

One of the young people we have supported is a local boy, now aged 14, who went online to talk to gay young people.

His parents raised the alarm when they checked his mobile phone and found Whatsapp conversation threads – one from a foreign number claiming to be a teenager asking for explicit images and another from an older man who wanted to meet up for advice on how to talk to his own son about his sexuality.

His Snapchat account had hundreds of connections with strangers and a deeper delve into the phone found reams of naked and explicit images which the boy had both received and which he had sent out of himself.

Recognising that he was being coerced and groomed into sharing images of himself, the parents changed their son’s number and closed his social media accounts but the whole experience has deeply affected the whole family and, as well as reporting this to the police, they came to us for help and support.

‘Online grooming could happen to any child or young person’, writes Tracy Harrison, CEO of Derbyshire-based Safe and Sound.

Although I appreciate that it is not always easy for families to have conversations about sexuality it is really important to talk and for young people to know that they have support.

I would also appeal to all families to be extra vigilant about who their young people are talking to online and to set the highest privacy settings.

For more information about Safe and Sound and how to support them, visit www.safeandsoundgroup.org.uk

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