Online grooming a significant online safety risk to consider as part of Safer Internet Day 2023

Safer Internet Day 2023 is this week. It is an important day for all organisations that interact with online environments. On 7 February 2023, Australians will be encouraged to “connect, reflect and protect” for the sake of making the internet a safer space for everyone. This is especially important for organisations that work with children, such as schools and charities, as children are increasingly facing safety risks in the online world.

This worldwide initiative is celebrating 20 years in 2023, making it a great time to reflect as well as look forward. Technology has evolved dramatically in the past two decades and the benefits have been huge. These developments have also exposed us to many risks with real-world impacts, making online safety awareness even more important.

Safer Internet Day is an opportunity for your organisation to:

  • connect with your stakeholders on online safety, to better understand their expectations for how you make the online spaces in which you provide services safer;
  • reflect on how your systems and processes ensure safety and privacy, and how you could better do this; and
  • protect your stakeholders, clients, and students by sharing tips and tricks to protect themselves online, whilst starting the conversation about larger shifts.

Online grooming

A significant threat for children and young people in the online environment, online grooming is described by the eSafety Commissioner as ‘the building of an online relationship with a child in order to sexually abuse them’.

Online grooming is unlawful and should be reported immediately to the police, even if no sexual act has occurred.

Concerningly, the eSafety Commissioner reports that 1 in 4 young people have been contacted by someone they do not know online, with 38% of young people saying that they have spoken to strangers online.

While this contact can be harmless, it can also be inappropriate, unwanted and unsafe. It can also become unsafe even when the initial contact is welcomed. At worst, the contact can evolve to involve grooming a young person to sexually abuse them, whether that is online abuse – for example, by being tricked or persuaded into sexual activity on webcams or sending sexual images – or being coerced into physical meeting.

Important to know: The criminal offence has no distinction between online or in person communication or conduct. Online communication or conduct is a crime if it meets the criminal offence in the applicable State or Territory criminal law. There are also technology specific crimes in the Federal Criminal Code.

The Betrayal of Trust report from the Victorian Government found many perpetrators of sexual offences against children purposely create relationships with victims, their families or carers in order to create a situation where abuse could occur. Increasingly, these relationships can be created online, without families or carers being aware of the communications being received by their child.

Responding to online grooming

Where there are concerns of online grooming, we recommend making a:

  1. report to the police
  2. complaint to the social media company / platform
  3. report to eSafety

The above reports may be made in consultation with the child or their parent or carer where appropriate.

We will discuss scenarios where children often face safety risks online in our complimentary online seminar on 8 February 2023. Register here to attend our live webinar.

How organisations can address the risks of online grooming

  1. Educate young people and families you work with.

This empowers young people to participate in their own safety, and begins the conversation about what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour. Education about consent for children and young people is important, and timely, with affirmative consent laws being introduced in Victoria and New South Wales.

  1. Continuously improve your online security mechanisms.

Take active steps to address the risks of your systems being hacked, or impersonated by perpetrators, for example, by revoking access to systems of past employees or families promptly and permanently. Read here our top tips for ensuring online safety and data security for charities.

Taking steps to ensure your online environments promote safety and minimise the opportunity for children to be harmed is also a key compliance element of the duty of care and the Child Safe Standards, or for schools, Ministerial Order 1359.

How we can help

Our safeguarding, education and privacy teams can offer training and provide tailored internal resources to empower staff to understand risks facing children and organisations online, and how to handle incidents when things do go wrong.

Join our webinar to learn more about how you can support the charities or school you are a part of to connect, reflect and protect.

Contact us

Please contact us for more detailed and tailored help.

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