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The Never-Ending Dilemma of Keeping Kids Safe in The Information Age

While the Covid-19 pandemic had imposed kids and working adults to spend most of their time online for study, work, and leisurely activities, it has brought to the fore, weaknesses of the cyber space, as there are dangers, unseen to the eyes, even in the vast, lonely realm of cyber space.

by K. Vatsala Devi
keeping kids safe online

The advent of technology is both a boon and bane. While it has brought the world closer and constantly connected, it also means kids as young as four years old are getting exposed and hooked on to the Internet and smart devices. It is estimated that individuals between the ages of 8 to 28 spend about 44.5 hours each week in front of digital screens.

While the Covid-19 pandemic had imposed kids and working adults to spend most of their time online for study, work, and leisurely activities, it has brought to the fore, weaknesses of the cyber space, as there are dangers, unseen to the eyes, even in the vast, lonely realm of cyber space. Since 2020, there have been heightened cases of cyber attacks, cyber bullying, and cyber threats. One of the biggest threats for individuals specifically kids and adolescents is cyber bullying.  

This week on the show “Focus Interview with Prof. Jazz”, the host – ESPC’s Editor-in-Chief, Prof Jazz – will be talking to Kayelene Kerr, the founder of eSafeKids and one of Western Australia’s most recognized and experienced specialist providers of Cyber Safety, Digital Wellness and Pornography education workshops. Kerr, with more than two decades of experience of study and law enforcement, investigating sexual crimes, including technology facilitated crimes, is passionate about the prevention of child abuse and exploitation.

Kerr is passionate about the prevention of child abuse and exploitation.

Kerr believes protecting children from harm is a shared responsibility as such, she delivers engaging and sought-after prevention education workshops to educate, equip and empower children and young people, and to help support parents, carers, educators and other professionals. The eSafeKids is a social enterprise Kerr created to focus on educating, equipping and empowering children and young people so they can have a safe and positive time online.

As the Cyber Safety, Digital Wellness and Pornography Education Specialist, Kerr has worked tirelessly since 2015, committing herself to developing and delivering workshops to primary and secondary students. Parents, carers, educators and other professionals often struggle with or don’t know how to start much needed conversations, so Kerr work with them to address the harmful effects of pornography on children, young people, families and the wider community.

“Children are growing up in a world where it’s impossible to avoid sexualized media and pornography. Several years ago, I observed an increase in children being exposed to and viewing pornography,” she said. “The ubiquity of the internet and portable electronic devices had transformed the way pornography was accessed and how pornography accesses children. Whilst pornography is not new, the nature and accessibility of pornography has changed considerably,” she stated.

“Hence the way we approach the issue, therefore, needs to be different. In the absence of adequate education in the home, school and wider community, pornography is the primary, and in many cases, the only education children and young people receive about human relationships and sexuality,” she observed.

This, she said, must change and to spearhead the change, Kerr works in Western Australia to consult relevant stakeholders and identify gaps in the provision of services currently available, striving for a collaborative and coordinated response across all sectors involved in protecting children from harm.

Worrying Statistics of Kids Being Sexually Harmed Online

The Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation states on their website that in 2020, the ACCCE Child Protection Triage Unit received more than 21,000 reports of online child sexual exploitation. Each report contains images and videos of children being sexually assaulted or exploited for the sexual gratification of online child sex offenders.

The AFP charged a total of 191 people with 1847 alleged child abuse-related offenses in 2020.

On Australian Federal Police (AFP) website, it states“Australian children as young as eight are being coerced into performing live-streamed sexual acts by online predators, who often record and share the videos on the dark net and sexually extort victims into producing even more graphic content. The offending, known as ‘capping’ for capturing, is one of the fastest growing trends of online child sexual abuse and children are being preyed on across all social media and video streaming platforms.

Australian victim identification specialists are seeing an increase in the volume of newly produced videos every week on dark web abuse forums and believe hundreds of thousands of children in Australia and around the world have been tricked or coerced into unwittingly producing sexualised videos.”

It further outlines that in the past 12 months alone, the ACCCE has intercepted and examined more than 250,000 child abuse material files. The numbers revealed here are staggering and shocking as well as worrying since it only covers one country. Just imagine what the global statistics would show. It is clear from here that tackling online abuse is pivotal and everyone has a role to play in the quest to reduce or eradicate online abuse. 

 The ACCCE works closely with national and international law enforcement agencies, prevention organizations and private sector, as well as civil society to drive a collaborative national response to counter the exploitation of children in Australia. But not content with the pre-existing laws and actions, Australia has taken another step to addressing online abuse by establishing e-safety Commissioner to keep Australian citizens safer online.

Australian’s eSafety Commissioner Prioritises Abuse on Kids

As the world’s first government agency solely committed to keeping citizens safer online, eSafety strives to deliver comprehensive, compassionate and citizen-focused services. eSafety focuses on six areas, each underpinned by a strategic goal and implemented by a range of well-tested tactics and activities. The Commissioner has garnered positive response from many quarters, including the nation’s sporting organizations that have joined forces to address online abuse, including racism, sexism, and homophobia, targeted at athletes in a signed statement to manage the risk of online abuse in sport.

eSafety and 24 sporting organisations came together to discuss online abuse in sport at a roundtable and have all signed the Online Safety Statement of Commitment. eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said although sport in Australia is usually a powerful community builder, online interactions with athletes are not always positive.

“Where once fans were limited to yelling their encouragement or venting their frustrations from the stands or at their TVs, today social media allows people to anonymously communicate abuse directly to athletes. This abuse can be unrelenting and is often personal in nature,” Grant said.

What Is Stopping Malaysia from Being Better?

While there weren’t immediate research and statistics that could be found online on sexual abuse in Malaysia. The article “1 in 10 children likely to be victim of abuse” written by Faye Kwan on 16 July this year for Free Malaysia Today cited data from the US National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

It was revealed that suspected online child sexual abuse reported from Malaysia had increased from 183,407 cases in 2019 to 204,506 in 2020. An increase of 21,099 cases, which brings it to approximately 1,758 cases a month.

It would be an agency solely committed to keeping citizens safer online.

A commission would strive to deliver comprehensive, compassionate and citizen-focused services, where it would focus on key areas that would be underpinned by a strategic goal and implemented by a range of well-tested tactics and activities.

The purpose of an authority body would help safeguard Malaysians at risk from online harms and to promote safer, more positive online experiences. And it would lead and coordinate the online safety efforts of government, industry, and the not-for-profit community in Malaysia.

A commission would continuously develop proactive strategies and solutions to keep Malaysians safer online.

Malaysia sorely needs an eSafety commission, so why is the Government and relevant agencies slow to act? Why are we not moving aggressively towards setting up such a commission?

Parents, What Can You Do for Your Kids?

As parents, of course the children’s safety comes first, and they need to accept the reality that the internet is not going away anytime soon. Kerr said that parents have a huge responsibility to help children use the internet safely, respectfully, and moderately.

In the show tonight with Prof. Jazz, Kerr suggests 4 things that parents can to help keep their children safe when they are online.

  1. Supervision is very important as parents needs to keep tabs on what their children are up to especially when they go online.
  2. Parents should focus on their children’s education, not just in school, but in home, parents should take the opportunity to educate their children at home
  3. Engage in the conversation, try to avoid from talking in a negative position because that would only end up closing the line of communication between the parents and the children.
  4. Try to participate in what your children are doing , by doing so then you could apply all of the above, supervision, education and engaging in the conversation.

“Parents need to be involved more, but it does not mean all the time, maybe parents can spend at least ten minutes talking about their kids interest so they would know their likes and dislikes as well,” she said.

If we can apply these tips then maybe, we could help make our children’s experience in the online environment a safer place. Catch Kayelene Kerr’s interview tonight on www.espc2go.com at 9:00 PM.

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