Evil online predators target kids in lockdown
While our streets, shopping centres and beaches are empty, the dark corners of the web are busy with predators flooding forums, talking about the new opportunities the coronavirus pandemic has given them to prey on the increased number of children now online.
Disturbingly, in one forum, paedophiles reflect on the fact that, with isolation measures in place, they have greater opportunities to contact children remotely to groom them for sexual exploitation, while others observe that they have more time to abuse children.
The distressing chats highlight the horror victims already trapped with their abusers in isolation are facing with one user calling on others to make the most of their opportunity: "Hi guys. It's coronavirus time. Stay home and f--- with your kids'.'
Manager of the eSafety Commissioner's investigations unit, Toby Dagg said they are busier than ever trying to disrupt the entanglements of the dark web.
"We are absolutely seeing a surge in forum activity that is specifically devoted to capitalising on this crisis, capitalising on children being home in far greater numbers than they usually are, capitalising on the fact that the parents are going to be distracted, working from home or being frontline workers," he said.
"That leaves huge opportunity for this incredibly motivated community of offenders to put their well-established methodologies into action."
eSafety have recorded a 40 per cent increase in reports over the past three weeks, compared with the previous 12-month weekly average, and reports of image-based abuse have increased by about 86 per cent and cyber-bullying has risen 21 per cent.
Some of the conversations that News Corp Australia has obtained reveal the depths predators will sink to - and the real risk facing children who are now living much of their life online and in isolation.
One user commented on COVID-19 bringing more youth online to platforms such as YouTube, vlog sites, online challenges and Omegle and promised users he had a huge amount of 'tasty stuff' to share and gave an indication of the quantity, saying each screenshot he held contained more than 25 videos, both non-nude and nude with many of the boys taking their clothes off.
Other members encourage one another to stay home: 'read some of those boy love stories you have saved for a rainy day, interact with your fellow boylovers, enjoy some BT (boy time)'.
Another user was praised for having only been a member for one month but already becoming by far the most prolific poster of content. He responded that had left the scene but now he has 'a lot of time on his hands' and so had resumed sharing content.
Another user spoke about the challenge of the virus, its origin and the impact on social life, and posed this question for discussion: '[H]ow to be a boylover in a time of pandemic?'
And probably most shockingly was the numbers of users making reference to creating illegal content and committing abuse at home.
The eSafety Commissioner's team is tasked with taking down illegal and harmful content online and using their unique skills to understand and analyse the online child sexual abuse networks, with a view to disrupting them.
Even with the amount of material he sees in his day job Mr Dagg said there are times when he finds it hard to grasp the sheer volume of people - "hundreds of thousands and probably millions" whose entire intent is to sexually abuse and exploit children.
These are people who share handbooks in how to effectively groom a child online - people who more often than not are professional, middle class men.
"Coming to terms with the fact that , you know, some malign intent exists on such a scale and you think too much about it, it can kind of paralyse you - you just need to accept it and move it forward," he said.
eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said the warning for parents to be careful was particularly timely with many states going into school holidays when children would not have school work to distract them, and parents would be busy.
eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said the parents must be particularly wary with increasing numbers of children online while parents attempted to work from home.
She said the more time children spend online unaccompanied, the higher the risk - and it is something they are seeing more and more regularly
"Teens and tweens that are behind closed bedroom and bathroom doors being directed remotely by predators to engage in a range of sex acts and sometimes we can hear the parents voices in the next room.
"It is it can happen under your nose if you're not really engaged with what they're doing."
Ms Inman Grant said that there are clear, simple strategies parents can use to keep children safe online including using parental controls on software, setting time limits, ensuring children are using their devices in open areas of the house, turning on privacy settings and being involved in their children's online activity themselves.
TOP 5 TIPS
1. Use parental controls - software tools that allow you to monitor and limit what your child sees and does online.
2. Set time limits - with most school-aged children using online platforms or programs for schoolwork, ensuring a healthy balance between non-school related online activities and offline time is more important than ever.
3. Stay in open areas of the home - device-free zones in the home can help you monitor and manage who your child interacts with online.
4. Know the apps and games your kids are using - check that apps, games and social media sites are age-appropriate for your child.
5. Turn on privacy settings - check the privacy settings on the games and apps your child is using and make sure their profiles are turned on to the strictest privacy setting.
6. Co-view and co-play - remember to take time to co-view and co-play with your children online.
Originally published as Evil online predators target kids in lockdown