A leading Irish Interpol officer has warned of a “huge increase” in online grooming and says children as young as six are being encouraged to share intimate pictures with predators.
Mick Moran, who heads up the human trafficking and child exploitation unit as assistant director with Interpol, says he has come across some of the sickest sex offenders in the world.
“There’s a load of theories why people are attracted to children and you can debate them until you’re blue in the face but the reality is — they exist,” he said. “And unless we, as a society, acknowledge that there are people with a sex interest in children and we deal with it with prevention mechanisms, we’ll forever have the problem. We are failing victims as a society because of our reluctance to talk about sexual issues. It’s essential we start talking about them openly and not in a tittering, schoolyard way.”
Mr Moran said there was a growing trend of ‘sextortion’, which is “all about the control of the sexuality of the child”.
“Whereas before we’d see sex offenders who would engage with children with a view to meeting up with the kids and having sexual relations with them, now this is about control of the child and getting the child to do acts that they wouldn’t normally do,” he said.
“These offenders will befriend a child through affinity-seeking strategies and play on their lack of self-confidence and vulnerabilities. The child will be asked to share normal pictures, then more intimate ones, and once this happens, the nature of communication changes into a threat environment.
“They will get to know all the child’s online activity and then threaten to share that picture on all their gaming and social media platforms. The child is then told to get into more intimate pictures involving sex acts on themselves and others until such a time as the child cracks — or worse.
“We often find with this type of offender that they have multiple victims — often as many as 70 victims all over the world and they’re driving them from their bedroom or their mobile phone.”
Garda Moran, who has been on secondment to France from An Garda Siochána since 2006, urged parents to make their child understand the dangers of the internet.
“Parental controls are essential on the internet but just because you’ve locked all the windows and doors in your house doesn’t mean you won’t be burgled,” he said.
“Your children are exposed to the dangers online anywhere. Even if they’re online in plain sight of you in the kitchen, they could be communicating with someone in Timbuktu and you’ve no idea what’s being said.”
Garda Moran advises parents to talk to children in an age-appropriate way on issues such as screen addiction, online gambling, cyber bullying, and scamming.
Parents can get advice and support from several websites, including hotline.ie, webwise.ie, and childline.ie
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