In a report published on Friday Ceop says it has uncovered a number of children self harming or, in one case, killing themself as a result. The trend for online blackmail to cause children to harm themselves is a small one but its growth is worrying experts who investigate child sexual exploitation. In the past two years Ceop has investigated 12 cases where children were blackmailed into performing sexual acts on a webcam.
In the past two years, according to figures from police forces in the UK and abroad, children have been a victim of online sexual blackmail in some form - in the UK. Ceop says research shows that of those victims seven children seriously harmed themselves as a result - including six from the UK, one of whom killed themself. Often the offenders - who frequently pose as a child online at first - go on to threaten to share naked pictures of the victim with friends and family unless they do what they are told.
Advertisement In one case that Ceop investigated the offender collated images he had obtained by blackmailing a child into a file entitled "Slaves". Andy Baker, deputy chief executive of Ceop, said: They hide behind a screen, and in many cases make hollow threats which they know they will never act on because by sharing these images it will only bring the police closer to them. Forty-six forces were asked to provide details of cases where a child in the past 12 months had been coerced into producing sexual images, then threatened with them being distributed and whether the victim had self harmed as a result.
Advertisement One teenager who was interviewed by police in a blackmail case told investigators she was targeted when she was He'd steer the conversation in a way that was turning a bit dirty then he'd start asking for other types of pictures as well.
It led in to the jailing of two Kuwaiti brothers. They had targeted children, including 78 in the UK, and forced them into performing sex acts online. Researchers say children are more vulnerable to such grooming if they are isolated or suffering problems at school or home. Parental monitoring of online use by young people is one of the key ways to prevent children being targeted. But more than two thirds of parents do not have filters on their children's smartphones.
Abusers often use instant messaging on smartphones to contact victims - it was used in a third of cases in the last year. The rise of smartphone ownership amongst year olds also increases the risks.
Letzgo Hunting, a controversial vigilante group targeting potential child abusers, announced on Thursday night that it was abandoning its operations. The move follows the suicide of Gary Cleary, whom the group had accused of grooming a child over the internet, and criticism by police that its tactics could disrupt their own operations.
Advertisement The members of the Leicestershire-based group posed online as girls aged 12 to 15 and interacted with men who they believed posed a risk to children before arranging real-life meetings in car parks, filminged the confrontations and passing the evidence to police. Cleary killed himself in May, days after he was arrested and released on police bail after a Letzgo Hunting sting.
An inquest into his death was held last week. In a statement on its website the group said: