Identifying signs of online child sexual exploitation is not always easy. As you learned in the previous sessions, online child sexual exploitation does not always involve physical contact between the child and the offender. It may not be easy to always identify therefore signs of online abuse and it would usually be the behavioral and emotional signs that will indicate there was abuse.
Behavior that should raise your attention:
- Spends long periods of time online and is reluctant to discuss what they do online
- Secrecy – if your child is being secretive and staying private, particularly about online activities
- Shows signs of depression – if your child is sad and doesn’t communicate or is less active than before.
- Shows signs or intentions of self-harm
- Gets fearful and anxious often for no apparent reason
- Spends a lot of time with people who are much older
- Shows decline in school and misses school often
- Has nightmares and troubles sleeping
- Is showing unregular eating behaviors – doesn’t want to eat, throws up after meals, is obsessive about losing weight
- Uses drugs/alcohol
- Is sad and withdrawn for a long period of time
- Is angry often and gets into fights with others
- Feels uncomfortable around cameras
*Keep in mind that not all of these signs will always be apparent after OCSE altogether, and they do not always mean the child has been sexually abused or exploited online, however they are enough to raise suspicions that something is wrong and that the child may need your intervention for help.
How does the impact of abuse differ when technology is involved?
It is important to acknowledge that there are almost no differences in severity of impact on a child when comparing between online and offline child sexual exploitation, even when no contact is involved. But the technological aspect of OCSE provides additional complexities to the impact of the abuse on a child that should be understood:
- The internet allows the offender to access the child easily and frequently, even at night, with no limitations of arranging a meeting,
- When contact becomes frequent, there are higher feelings of powerlessness and anxiety.
- Online grooming is much quicker and easier for the offender online than offline. Children’s inhibitions are lowered faster online, which increases feelings of self-blame.
- Fear that the images are still being circulated online creates additional stress, and revictimizes the child with every share.
- When no physical contact is involved, the child’s surrounding is less likely to empathize and understand the hardships they are going through.
The emotional distress from OCSE therefore, can sometimes even exceed offline cases and should be taken seriously.