Parents are putting their children at risk of sexual abuse by failing to carry out basic checks on their mobile phones, a report in the UK has warned.
The study into child sexual exploitation found a lack of understanding among families that paedophiles often try to contact children through the mobile devices.
Smartphones are now a “key tool” used by sex offenders targeting children, according to Pace (Parents Against Child Exploitation), which commissioned the study along with Virtual College’s Safeguarding Children e-academy.
The report, Are Parents In The Picture?, found more than half (56%) of parents thought it was “most intrusive” to check text messages sent and received by children aged nine to 14.
This is despite agreement from nine out of 10 safeguarding professionals that mobile phones were a key tool for perpetrators of child sexual exploitation, Pace said.
Seven out of 10 professionals believed a lack of knowledge and engagement among parents was the most significant barrier in the fight against child sexual exploitation, the report found.
The study was based on two YouGov surveys of 945 professional staff, including more than 200 police officers, 226 social workers and 510 teachers, and 750 parents with at least one child aged nine to 17.
It follows a crackdown announced by Microsoft and Google on internet searches for horrific photographs and videos, which British Prime Minister David Cameron hailed as “real progress against the absolute evil of child abuse”.
Half (51%) of professionals believed parents do not have the right information needed to keep their children safe from sexual exploitation, while 53% thought families did not understand what child sexual exploitation entails.
Nearly nine out of 10 parents (87%) said that there had been no education about child sex abuse at their children’s school
One in 10 parents admitted they did not know enough about child sexual exploitation, while four out of 10 said they were not confident they would recognise the difference between normal adolescent behaviour and key indicators that a child is being sexually exploited.
Pace chief executive Gill Gibbons said: “It’s time to bring parents out of the shadows and into the centre of the picture. We need to build more awareness across all communities, with a stronger statutory focus on working with parents.”
The UK's former children’s minister Tim Loughton said: “It is particularly crucial that parents are better educated and better engaged in protecting their own children.
“The huge attention given to the prolific crimes of celebrities such as Jimmy Savile should not detract from the fact that most child sexual exploitation happens at the hands of ordinary criminals targeting ordinary children from all sorts of backgrounds and mostly living at home.
“Schools must redouble their efforts to include parents in the battle against the perpetrators of CSE at an early stage and no one must be under any illusion that this could never happen to their children.”
The study comes ahead of Pace’s conference in central London tomorrow to discuss the wider impact of child sexual exploitation on families, and a week before the release of the Office of the Children’s Commissioner’s (OCC) two-year inquiry into child sexual exploitation in groups and gangs.
Yesterday Mr Cameron said the expertise of eavesdropping agency GCHQ will be used to “go after” paedophiles that exploit hidden parts of the internet.
New software will be introduced to automatically block 100,000 “unambiguous” search terms which lead to illegal content on the two search engines, and Britain’s National Crime Agency will join forces with America’s FBI in a new transatlantic task force to target paedophiles who use encrypted networks online.