North Yorkshire charity claims professionals 'ill-equipped' to protect children from online predators



First published in News
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The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Health & Education Editor

FRONTLINE professionals say they are ill-equipped to help child victims of online sexual abuse, according to new research.

The survey of health, education and children’s services workers across England was commissioned by the North Yorkshire-based charity the Marie Collins Foundation, which campaigns against online sexual abuse.

It reveals a "shocking black hole" in the knowledge and capabilities of professionals to deal with the aftermath for children abused online.

The study revealed some of the cases that professionals have encountered including:

  • A mother who offered her 11-year-old daughter for sexual services to attract men for herself
  • Countless cases of young teenage girls being abused by men they had agreed to meet after making contact online
  • Boys and girls as young as nine using chat rooms to find a boyfriend or girlfriend girls being encouraged to perform sexual acts for 'friends' which are filmed then distributed.

The results show that as technology has moved on, and perpetrators have become more ingenious, training for professionals has not kept pace.

Tink (CORR) Palmer, chief executive of the Ripon-based Marie Collins Foundation and an internationally renowned expert in the field, said: “The results of this research have confirmed our fears - that there is a dearth of understanding and professional expertise in relation to the recovery needs and future safeguarding of children abused online.

“In the UK and internationally the response to the needs of children and their families is, at best, ad hoc. Professionals lack confidence in assisting children in their recovery and it is apparent that this is due to a lack of adequate training.

"Currently, many professionals are attempting to deal with cases for which they are not equipped.”

The charity is calling for a national programme of professional development and specialist training to meet the needs of children who have suffered harm via digital technologies.

Ms Palmer added: “We have to develop much more widespread expertise in assisting recovery so those who have been abused can recover and life safe and fulfilling lives.”

In the study, by Dr Emma Bond and Stuart Agnew at University Campus Suffolk, and supported by Professor Andy Phippen, of Plymouth University 70 per cent of the 692 respondents stated that they had not received training in online risk assessment and 96.5 per cent said they would value such training.

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