Cyber-blackmailers 'abusing hundreds of UK children'

20.09.2013 13:23

Hundreds of British children are being
blackmailed into performing sex acts
online, the Child Exploitation and
Online Protection Centre has warned.
Abusers posing online as children talk
victims into sexual acts or sharing of
images, then threaten to send pictures to
the child's family and friends.
Ceop said in 12 cases over two years,
424 children had been blackmailed in
this way - 184 of them in the UK.
Deputy chief executive Andy Baker said
the abuse "escalates really quickly".
He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme
that it could take as little as four minutes
"to go from, 'Hi, do you want to get
naked?', to self-harming".
Seven victims have killed themselves,
including a 17-year-old in the UK.
Another seven seriously self-harmed, of
whom six were from the UK.
Mr Baker said: "We're talking about a
very small dark percentage of [the
internet] and this is what we need to
police".
Daniel Perry, from Dunfermline, Fife,
took his own life in the summer after
blackmailers demanded thousands of
pounds having tricked him into thinking
he was chatting with a US girl.
'Slave-like acts'
He was told that his video conversations
would be spread among friends and
family unless he paid cash. Other victims
have been told their activities would be
shared unless they performed more
extreme acts.
In the 12 cases highlighted by Ceop, the
abusers came from four continents and
in five cases the criminals were based in
the UK.
Children as young as eight had been
forced to perform "slave-like acts", said
Mr Baker. As well as the performance of
sex acts, the abuse sometimes involved
being forced to self-harm and there had
been a few attempts to extort money.
Experts highlighted the accessibility of
the English language and foreign abusers'
perceptions about the liberal nature of
UK society as reasons for the targeting of
British children.
Mr Baker said thousands of British
children could have been approached in
attempts to instigate abuse.
While only a handful of children will
respond, thousands are exposed to the
risk, he said.
Ceop operations manager Stephanie
McCourt said: "First of all it's the English
language. They are able to threaten the
children if they can communicate to
them. English is a really popular
universal language.
"Second of all, the offenders have
actually said that because they perceive
the UK as a very free and open and
liberal society, they think that they will
have more success in targeting UK
children."
The biggest case, known as Operation K,
involved 322 children around the world
being blackmailed, including 96 in the
UK.
The victims were mainly boys aged 11 to
15, who were targeted by a gang from a
non-European country. The suspects are
due to stand trial in the coming weeks.
Fake profiles
The gang used more than 40 fake online
profiles and more than 40 different email
addresses to carry out their abuse.
The network of abuse was exposed after
a social networking site noticed
suspicious activity and a British child told
their parents.
Set up in 2006 in affiliation with the
Serious Organised Crime Agency, Ceop is
a police agency dedicated to protecting
children from sexual abuse.
Ceop said warning signs that a child was
being subjected to online abuse could
include them becoming aggressive,
withdrawn, or self-harming.
But in Daniel Perry's case it appears
there were no warning signs.
His mother told reporters after his death:
"He was a happy laddie, not depressed
and the last type of person you would
think would take their life... We're a very
close family and I just wished he had
come to me and said something."
The apprentice mechanic had been
having online conversations with
someone he believed to be a girl around
his own age.
Just before his death, he was warned by
the blackmailers that he would be better
off dead if he did not transfer the cash.
Less than an hour after replying to the
message, he fell from the Forth Road
Bridge.
Scott Freeman, the founder of
cyberbullying charity Cybersmile, told
the BBC it was important for parents to
educate themselves and their children
about the internet - particularly online
privacy settings and the procedures
available for reporting incidents.
He said: "Don't talk to people you don't
know, don't move from the platform
onto more private platforms."
Internet providers could do more to
tackle abuse, Mr Freeman said, but he
added: "We've started to see some of
them take responsibility now and they've
started to put procedures in place so
hopefully things are moving in the right
direction."