Home Tech ‘My 17-year-old son was arrested for sharing child abuse images – he said it was a relief’

‘My 17-year-old son was arrested for sharing child abuse images – he said it was a relief’

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‘My 17-year-old son was arrested for sharing child abuse images – he said it was a relief’

Louise* thought she had been open and clear with her two children about the dangers of the Internet. But last year there was a knock on his door at 6 a.m. It was the police looking for her 17-year-old son.

“There were five or six police officers coming up my stairs,” she said. “When they said they were looking for my son because of indecent images, I thought I was going to pass out.

“I was like, ‘Oh my God, he’s autistic, has he been treated?’ They put all his devices in bags and took him away. I was so petrified for him that I was throwing up once they left.

Louise’s son is one of thousands of young people under the age of 18 arrested by police intelligence services for viewing or sharing indecent images of children over the past year.

Research published in February found that some people viewing child sexual abuse material (CSAM) reported that they had become desensitized to adult pornography, leading them to seek out more extreme or violent material.

In December, a Guardian investigation found that in some areas the majority of people identified by police as viewing or sharing indecent images of children were under 18.

Experts say it’s part of a broader crisis caused by predators grooming children through chat apps and social media sites.

In January, the Internet Watch Foundation warned that more than 90% of child abuse images on the Internet were self-generated – created and shared by children themselves.

Louise says her son was led down a dangerous path, going from a natural teenage curiosity about pornography to discussing and sharing sexual images with strangers. Alex* was found guilty of viewing and sharing a small number of images of child abuse. He had category A images (rape and abuse of young children) on his devices and had shared images in category B and C.

Louise is fully aware that her son – who was sentenced to 18 months in the community and has now been on the sex offenders register for five years – has committed a serious offense and must take responsibility for it. But she wants other parents to understand how the pathways work.

“It started with an obsession common to many young autistic people,” she says. “He loved manga and anime. I can’t tell you how many miles I drove to get him comics.

“This interest led him to sexualized images of the same comics, and then to groups where teenagers shared porn.”

Alex has since admitted to his mother that he was curious about pornography and had joined online groups with names such as “sexual images 13 to 17”. “What teenager isn’t curious?” » said Louise.

It was on these well-known chat sites and apps that adults were waiting to train young people like him.

“He had so many messages,” says Louise. “I mean literally thousands of messages from people trying to treat him. It’s about a boy who spent years trying to conform like an autistic child at school, to try to fit in socially. Who was bullied. And he suddenly felt included. He felt a buzzing sound.

“Adults asked him to share images of abuse for them. If he hadn’t been arrested, who knows where this would have ended.

Louise asked Alex why he didn’t show an adult the images that had been sent to him.

“I even said to him, ‘Why didn’t you tell me when you opened the images?’ And he said, “Mom, do you know how hard it is to do this? To explain the months spent online in these spaces. His actual words when the police arrived were: “Oh, thank God.” It was a relief for him.

She says the lockdown has changed the balance for young people like her son, shifting their lives online. “They were told, ‘Just go online, do whatever’s there.’ »

Alex and his mother receive help from Lucy Faithfull Foundation, a charity providing support for online sex offenders. Last year, 217,889 people contacted their support services, concerned about their own or others’ sexual thoughts or behaviors.

The organization recently created a website called Shore, aimed at young people who are concerned about their own sexual thoughts and behaviors. Calls to its helpline from under-18s increased by 32% when the country emerged from lockdown.

Alex also spoke about the dangerous place he was in. “I was in my final year of sixth form and I was anxious and scared about my friendships ending because I was staying at home and my friends were leaving for university.

“That’s when I made the fateful decision to try to create friendships using multiple chat platforms. There was no intention of sexual engagement, but a combination of natural sexual interest, fear of falling behind my friends in terms of experience, and strong effects of anonymity made it very easy to engage. in these cases.

He warns that his generation is using the online world in ways that require new thinking to better protect children.

“This problem cannot be solved by telling people not to talk to strangers on the Internet. This is outdated information,” he says.

“Many people think this content is only found on the dark web, when it can be effortlessly found on the more superficial parts of the internet. It’s very scary to realize this and it would have deterred me but unfortunately I was too involved and it was too late for me.

* Names have been changed

  • If a child is concerned about images they may have shared themselves, this can be reported via Childline’s joint service with the Internet Watch Foundation, Report Delete. You can also report images of child sexual abuse through the same website. If you are concerned about the sexual behavior of a young person, visit: Shorespace.org.uk

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