Online safety is an important pillar within the scope of Child Focus. The organisation acts as a helpline when someone – young or old – has questions about safer use of the internet by minors. Child Focus has a team of specialised advisors who provide advice and assistance and actively participate in the search for a solution.
In 2019, Child Focus opened 267 different files on online safety. This is a slight decrease compared to 2018, when it concerned 275 files. Very striking in these figures is the fact that in 78 per cent of the cases, it concerns the possible violation of the sexual integrity of minors. This is a large increase compared to 2018, because back then, 64 per cent of the cases were about the sexual integrity of minors.
Grooming: girls remain vulnerable
34 files on online grooming were opened, a status quo compared to last year. Online grooming stands for the process by which an adult deliberately approaches minors with a sexual purpose. That sexual purpose can vary: it can be about an agreement to effectively engage in sexual abuse, but in some cases, it remains a question of sexual conversations or the exchange of images. Whether or not the groomer succeeds in their intention does not matter, it is in any case a serious offence. Exactly 80 per cent of the victims were girls and the vast majority were under the age of 16.
Problematic sexting: youngsters find us more
Send a spicy picture to your sweetheart? Must be possible! In itself, there is nothing wrong with sexting, as long as it is done without coercion and the right arrangements are made. But in some cases, it goes wrong - and when it goes wrong, it goes thoroughly wrong. In 2019, Child Focus opened 98 files related to problematic sexting (against 111 in 2018). Hopefully, the centre's prevention initiatives are at work and this downward trend will continue in the coming years. A striking and very positive development is that the number of young people that contact Child Focus has more than doubled in 2019.
Sextortion: another substantial increase
"Sextortion" stands for sexual extortion. With sextortion, young people are tempted to send nude photos or videos of themselves. Afterwards, it turns out it is not a romantic conversation, but the young person in question is extorted with these newly exchanged images. If they don't transfer money or sends new images, the perpetrators threaten to send the images to friends or family. This phenomenon is again on the rise, as we received 55 reports (compared to 46 in 2018 and 39 in 2017). Of these 55 reports, 44 (80 per cent) concerned financial extortion. In the remaining 11 cases, the perpetrators wanted extra footage. The victims of sextortion are often boys between the ages of 14 and 16, but it is certainly possible that girls are also victims of sextortion. Again, the percentage of young people who call us, increased in 2019. A positive trend!
Sexual harassment: no is no, and unsolicited is also no
In 2019, Child Focus opened 21 files on sexual harassment. In most cases, it concerns the undesirable sharing of sexual harassment, tinted messages or images to other young people, with "unsolicited dickpics" as the most well-known example. It remains an important part of our prevention work to make it clear that online sexuality experience is only okay when there is consent from both parties.
Find out more information about the work of the Belgian Safer Internet Centre (SIC) generally, including its awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services, or find similar information for Safer Internet Centres throughout Europe.