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Alarming rise in ‘self-produced child abuse material’ sparks online safety warnings

September 13, 2017 ·  By Elise Worthington and Alex McDonald for www.abc.net.au

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Sexual predators are taking advantage of Australian children as young as four, who are live-streaming and recording explicit videos and sharing sexualised images of themselves online.

Australian police have been overwhelmed with an increase in reports of what is known as “self-produced child exploitation material”.

In some instances, children are willingly sharing these images and videos with friends on social media.

In other cases, sex offenders are reaching out to children through social media platforms and coercing them into producing explicit material which is secretly captured and shared in the darkest corners of the internet.

7.30 has been shown several darknet paedophile forums, including one with more than 600,000 posts in a section dedicated to self-generated child abuse material.

‘I kill the cat if you don’t do it’

“Most of the time we see it starts quite innocently,” said Adele Desirs, a victim identification analyst formerly with Interpol, now based at Queensland Police’s Taskforce Argos.

“The children will post a video of themselves dancing or singing on YouTube. Then they get contacted via comments by these predators and that is how it starts.”

In the first months of 2016, Interpol saw a 150 per cent rise in cases such as these.

“It’s literally exploding and it’s drowning victim identification specialists,” Ms Desirs told 7.30.

PHOTO: A man posing as 'Emily' manipulated a 12-year-old Australian girl on the internet (ABC News)

PHOTO: A man posing as ‘Emily’ manipulated a 12-year-old Australian girl on the internet (ABC News)

In one particularly disturbing case, a 12-year-old child was told to produce abusive material after a sex offender threatened, via webcam, that he would “choke a cat”.

“So, ‘I kill the cat if you don’t do it’, this is the type of things we see,” Ms Desirs said.

The Australian Federal Police has been inundated with reports of self-produced child exploitation material, according to its head of victim-based crime.

“Another example we have seen is where siblings or young peers have been encouraging each other to remove clothes and perform in sexualised poses or actions or to dance in sexualised way or undertake sex acts,” said Commander Lesa Gale.

“This is really concerning when we are talking about children as young as four being directed by other children as young as 10 years old.”

Exploitation can occur ‘while an adult is in the same room’

Police say much of the self-produced material they see is being made under the noses of parents.

“We have seen examples where young people have been filming themselves in sexualised poses or move their device to film their genital region, this is while an adult is in the same room as them,” Commander Gale said.

Police say many of these children are naturally curious about sex and are experimenting with live-streaming video on certain apps, chasing “likes” and have easy access to camera phones from a young age.

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“What we are seeing is kids exploring their sexuality and producing material and putting it on the internet just through naivety, not even understanding where it can end up,” said Detective Inspector Jon Rouse from Queensland’s Taskforce Argos.

With technology rapidly becoming a more integral part of children’s lives, research from the eSafety Commission shows that on average kids aged eight to 13 have two social media accounts and teens aged 14 to 17 have three.

It’s a pace parents can find daunting, according to eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant.

“There’s a number of great educational apps that kids are using, apps like music.ly, or ROBLOX or Minecraft but they have chat functions,” she said.

“These chat functions — if the parental controls are not on or the privacy settings aren’t being used — can be infiltrated by paedophiles or adults with nefarious interests to start conversations with young people.”

‘Groomers are the masters of manipulation’

According to police and educators, the solution is talking to kids early, openly and often.

“I think parents need to engaging with kids about what apps they are on and what sites they are using,” Ms Inman Grant said.

“They need to know whether there is a live video or live chat function. If there is, they need to be employing parental controls and know who their kids are talking to.

“They can be in the next room and their kids could be exploited.

“You wouldn’t let an adult stranger play in the sandpit with your kid, you don’t want them engaging in a digital playground either.”

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Commander Gale agrees early intervention and education are critical.

“We are seeing toddlers being familiar with being able to access these easily available apps,” she said.

“So the requirement is for parents to really have that conversation, to educate children from the youngest age of the perils of being in the online space.”

Victim identification analysts like Ms Desirs, who sift through the destruction caused by child exploitation, have a simple message for children.

“Never, ever share a naked picture of yourself.

“On the internet you never know who you are sending it to, even if the person looks like a friend or someone you trust.

“The groomers are masters of manipulation.”

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