Almost nine out of 10 sexual advances on children happen online
Children are at constant risk online, as almost 90% of sexual advances made on them occur in chat rooms, on instant messaging services, and even gaming sites.
This is according to KnowBe4 Africa, a cyber security organisation.
According to Anna Collard, the senior vice-president for content strategy at KnowBe4 Africa, there are strong similarities between the real and virtual worlds, and therefore both need the same approaches and to be treated with the same levels of caution.
“There are nearly half a million online predators active on the internet every day and children between the ages of 12 and 15 are particularly susceptible,” she said.
This is of particular concern because about 40% of children remove their privacy settings to attract more friends and followers, and only 20% of children are aware of the dangers, Collard added.
Siyabulela Monakali from the women and children organisation Ilitha Labantu echoed Collard’s sentiments, saying that in this digital age, parents and guardians must be extra vigilant because of the chances of falling victim to cyber exploitation.
“Parents must explain to their children about the dangers of the online world. Inasmuch as it may be fun and exciting, there are always elements of danger lurking online, waiting to exploit children's naiveté. Online access comes with risks like exposure to inappropriate content, cyberbullying, and online predators,” said Monakali.
Collard said there were some key things every child should know when it comes to online security.
“It is not just human predators that sit behind fake profiles, but also bots. One way to check is to copy the profile picture and check on the Google image search if it appears elsewhere — often photos are stock images or stolen from other people.
“Another thing that is suspicious is if there are very few images on their wall, then it could be a fake account,” she said.
KnowBe4 Africa says predators try to secure trust by sharing interests, offering gifts and compliments, and being really nice.
“They try to build rapport and trust with their victims. Then they ask for personal information, turn you against other people and keep steering the conversations to sex. The behaviour can escalate to the point where they ask for explicit photos or threaten the victim. And kids are ashamed to tell their parents or get help,”
Monakali added that other guidelines to share with children include: never post or trade personal pictures. Never reveal personal information such as an address, phone number, location (school, home, or in public).
“Never respond to threatening emails, posts or texts. Parents must check their credit cards and phone bills for unfamiliar accounts or charges. Speak to your children regularly about the dangers that lurk online,” he said.