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AFP lends expertise to TV show to raise awareness of online threats | #childpredator | #onlinepredator | #sextrafficing

An AFP covert online operative and senior child protection specialist have provided expert advice to Channel 9’s Parental Guidance television show to highlight the dangers children face online every day from predators seeking to groom them.

Experts from the AFP worked closely for months with the producers of Parental Guidance to develop an online gaming scenario which featured in an episode that aired last night (5 June).

The AFP’s involvement included consulting to develop scenarios for the show’s online gaming challenge that were based off real-life interactions with online predators by members of the Covert Online Engagement Unit, which is based in the AFP-led Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE).

The scenarios were limited to only include the initial stages in the grooming process and were carefully designed to highlight how quickly and easily an online predator can extract sensitive personal information from a child.

ACCCE experts have repeatedly warned the community about the prevalence of online grooming and how quickly predators can begin manipulating children as young as five after their initial contact.

The show’s online gaming challenge provided stark, real-life examples of how successful this predatory grooming can be as well as examples of children successfully negating the grooming.

An AFP covert operative, whose identity is protected, provided advice on grooming strategies and techniques commonly used by predators to the production team.

The Covert Online Engagement Unit specialises in online covert operations specifically targeting the most serious online predators. Although they assisted in the production of this series, they do not engage with children online.

AFP Detective Superintendent ACCCE and Human Exploitation Jayne Crossling also appeared on Parental Guidance as the show’s first ever in-studio guest, joining hosts Ally Langdon and Dr Justin Coulson to provide advice and educative support to parents.

Detective Superintendent Crossling said the key message the AFP wanted parents to take from the show was the importance of having regular conversations with your children about their online activities.

“The online world is key part of most children’s lives these days and as digital natives they are generally much more savvy in this world than their parents or carers,” Detective Superintendent Crossling said.

“Despite this, parents still play a vital role in helping their children navigate the digital world safely and should be actively guiding them online just as they do in the physical world.

“The most important thing to do is to have regular discussions with your children about what they are doing online and reinforcing safe online behaviours for them.

“The online gaming challenge in Parental Guidance was a controlled environment but showed the reality of what the AFP sees everyday: unsuspecting children being groomed by predators into revealing sensitive or intimate information or images.”

The AFP’s education program, ThinkUKnow, recommends parents and carers take the following actions:

  • Check if the app/game your child is using has a direct message or chat function, and check if they are talking to people they know in-person or people they don’t know online.
  • Turn off the chat if not necessary for the game/app, if this isn’t possible, ensure your child knows to keep the chat about the game only and to avoid answering any personal questions.
  • Encourage critical thinking skills with your child and explain to them that not everyone online is who they say they are.
  • Some apps/games have privacy settings that can be changed to limit who can contact your child. We recommend implementing this where possible, however keep in mind these can sometimes be changed so we also suggest a regular privacy ‘check-up’ to make sure these are still in place.
  • Someone asking your child to move to another platform or to add them as a ‘friend’ on another platform might be a sign that something isn’t right. Keep an eye out for suspicious activity and know how to block/report.

The AFP’s ThinkUKnow program, in partnership with the AFP-led ACCCE has developed a children’s picture book called Jack Changes the Game to support parents, carers and teachers in discussing online grooming and staying safe online in a non-threatening and empowering way.

Based on a real report to the ACCCE, the book has been developed in collaboration with a reference group comprising some of Australia’s leading experts in online safety and education.

The AFP and its partners are committed to stopping child exploitation and abuse and the ACCCE is driving a collaborative national approach to combatting child abuse.

The ACCCE brings together specialist expertise and skills in a central hub, supporting investigations into online child sexual exploitation and developing prevention strategies focused on creating a safer online environment.

Members of the public who have information about people involved in child abuse are urged to contact the ACCCE at www.accce.gov.au/report. If you know abuse is happening right now or a child is at risk, call police immediately on 000.

If you or someone you know is impacted by child sexual abuse and online exploitation, support services are available at www.accce.gov.au/support.

Research conducted by the ACCCE in 2020 revealed only about half of parents talked to their children about online safety. Advice and support for parents and carers about how they can help protect children online can be found at www.thinkuknow.org.au, an AFP-led education program designed to prevent online child sexual exploitation.

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