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NZ Agencies Urge Young People To Be Safe Online As Reports Of Online Child Exploitation Continue To Rise

Published: Tue 23 Apr 2024 07:08 AM
Parents, guardians, and young people are being reminded to keep themselves safe online as reports of sextortion continue and posts involving sexually explicit material of children continue to trend upward.
A new interactive video has been launched online to highlight the dangers and the ease with which young people are exposed to exploitation.
Between 2022 and 2023 New Zealand authorities have received nearly 5000 additional referrals from the Cyber Tipline. These include instances of sextortion, and child sexual abuse being posted online and sent via private messages.
Cyber Tipline is a reporting platform run by America’s National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). It allows members of the public and organisations such as social media sites to notify NCMEC about sexually explicit content involving children, including child sexual abuse images located on their platforms.
NCMEC then notifies relevant local law enforcement agencies around the world.
‘A cause for increased concern’
NCMEC has received a total of 36.2 million Cyber Tipline Reports over the last year, up from 29.3 million reports in 2021 and 32 million in 2022.
Cases involving young New Zealanders, while only making up a small number of these reports, follow a very similar trend.
Of the 36.2 million reports received by NCMEC, New Zealand agencies who work in this field - including DIA, Customs and Police - received 19,865 referrals in 2023, up from just over 15,000 in 2022.
Detective Senior Sergeant Kepal Richards, officer in charge of New Zealand Police Online Child Exploitation Across New Zealand Team (OCEANZ), says “Reports from NCMEC which contain information about victims and online offenders here in New Zealand have almost quadrupled in the last five years alone.
“These latest statistics unfortunately are not surprising, but should be cause for increased concern.
“Police work closely with Department of Internal Affairs and the New Zealand Customs Service, in an effort to prevent further victims. We do this by carrying out investigations, and working to inform and provide awareness of the issue and its warning signs to our young people, their parents and guardians.
“New Zealand Police currently receives around 200 referrals per month from NCMEC. Each referral is risk assessed by dedicated investigators in the OCEANZ team to identify cases requiring immediate action to safeguard children, or to identify and hold to account those responsible for causing harm. An initial investigation is completed at OCEANZ before it is sent to local district Child Protection Teams who investigate the matters to their conclusion,” DSS Richards says.
Selfies found in offenders collections
Police have a number of pathways available after a referral is received, and while some people are arrested and charged, where offending is identified, other routes include prevention visits and conversations, particularly when it involves a young person.
Chief Customs Officer – Child Exploitation Operations Team, Simon Peterson says: “Behind every one of these reports is an online user, here in New Zealand, who may pose a real threat to our communities and our tamariki, in particular.
“These are also not nuisance crimes - the majority of objectionable material that New Zealand agencies deal with show real children being harmed through often-horrific sexual abuse. Ever-increasing reporting of online offending is a clear marker for increasing global demand, and victimisation, of our society's most vulnerable.”
“Customs continues to work shoulder-to-shoulder with our colleagues in Police and the Department of Internal Affairs to not only manage and respond to NCMEC reporting, but to do the best we can to keep our children safe from this heart-breaking abuse, happening both here in New Zealand and across the world," Mr Peterson says.
Tim Houston, Manager of the Digital Child Exploitation Team at the Department of Internal Affairs, says that children and young people need to be aware that any information they share with unknown persons or profiles online can be used against them.
“We regularly encounter intimate content that children and young persons have generated of themselves within the collections of child sexual exploitation material possessed by offenders,” he says.
The advice to young people and parents is to remain vigilant online, be 100 per cent sure of who you are communicating with, and if you suspect you are engaging with an adult posing as another child, report it. Keep It Real Online provides excellent resources to tamariki, parents, and educators about staying safe online.
When conversations becomes blackmail
Detective Senior Sergeant Richards says: “While just over half of our sextortion victims are young males between the ages of 13 and 21, it can affect anyone of any age, so we ask everyone online to be vigilant and mindful of their safety.
“Sextortion is a global issue and as technology continues to advance so too does methods for targeting victims. Often offshore offenders are responsible, persuading victims to send sexually explicit content before blackmailing them by threating to post them online, or share them with people close to the victim.
“It’s an issue that continues to be a challenge, with Police currently receiving an average of 42 complaints a month through Police reporting channels, involving both adult and child victims.
The offending generally begins with a direct message sent to the victim on social media through a convincing, yet fake, account.
The victim is then asked to continue chatting on a different app, and the conversation often becomes highly sexualised.
From there victims are asked to share images, in some cases sexually explicit images, which are then used to blackmail them.
In some cases, offenders are reported to alter seemingly innocent images to look explicit.
NCMEC has recently created an interactive video for people, including parents, to get a glimpse of what it is like to be a victim of sextortion.
This assists in understanding the experience, to foster informed conversations around the topic and gives advice on how to seek help.

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