Parents urged to do more to protect their children after surge in reports of online child sex abuse

Marilyn Hawes, founder of Freedom from Abuse, smiling and wearing glasses

Stevenage mum Marilyn Hawes, founder of Freedom from Abuse, is urging parents to be vigilant over their children's online access. - Credit: Marilyn Hawes

A Stevenage mum dedicated to protecting children from sexual predators after her own children were abused, is urging parents to better monitor their children’s internet use, with reports of online child sex abuse continuing to rise during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Spending more time at home has shifted children’s lives further into online virtual ones, through video calls with friends and family, social media interaction, online games and educational use. It has provided an opportunity for sex offenders to access a broader group of potential victims. 

Police, charities and internet security companies have all reported a sickening spike in online child sex abuse. The Internet Watch Foundation, which works to remove child abuse material, cites a 50 per cent increase in reports since March, compared to last year. 

Marilyn Hawes, founder of Freedom from Abuse, has been teaching parents and teachers how to protect children from sex abuse since her three sons were sexually groomed and assaulted by their headteacher, who was also a family friend. 

She said: “The online issues are escalating. The statistics are alarming and we must do all we can to stem the harm, as the safety of our youngsters is paramount.” 

Marilyn is delivering training to schools remotely and said: “Focus is on prevention by risk awareness of behaviours, and the consequences. Our education engages young people in critical thinking to avoid harm.” 

But Marilyn says parents also need to do more to keep their children safe.  “Parents buy the electronic devices and need to take a role in better monitoring the use of them,” she said. 

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In a recent Europol report it says: “Online child sexual abuse will remain a significant threat as long as children spend large amounts of time online unsupervised, either during their spare time or while receiving education via remote learning arrangements.” 

It also says: “The COVID-19 crisis has resulted in a surge in online distribution of child sexual abuse material, which was already at high levels prior to the pandemic. The harm resulting from being a victim is severe. The impact can hardly be overstated.”

If you have concerns, you can call the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000. 

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