The ISPCC has today called for a national strategy on children’s cyber safety to respond to increasing instances of harm to children online. Its comments coincide with the annual Cyber Risk Summit of Cyber Risk International, which is hosting its event in Dublin today.

ISPCC CEO Grainia Long, who is addressing the event said: “The ISPCC is increasingly concerned about the extent to which children and young people are exposed to exploitation and harm online. While we are firm believers in the positive impact that technology and social media is having, our work with children and young people has also convinced us that as a society we are failing to prepare children to identify risks online, to cope when harm takes place and to empower children and young people to stay safe online.”

Childline, the national listening service for children takes calls from young people who are concerned about their safety online. In recent months, there has been increasing prevalence of young people contacting Childline in relation to so-called ‘sexting’.

Many young people have been in touch when they are concerned that they are being coerced to send photos of themselves to boyfriends or girlfriends. In other cases, Childline has been contacted when an image has already been sent and the image is then being used to bribe, or indeed to ridicule the child. In more serious cases, children have contacted them when they’ve met someone online who they believe to be a peer, but who they later suspect to be an adult. There have also been instances of young people who have been stalked by their peers.

ISPCC CEO Grainia Long continued: “We are only beginning to understand the scale and nature of harm and criminal behaviour towards children online. In particular, the psychological impact on children of online behaviour is profound, where they have engaged in behaviour of a sexual nature, or where there is a threat of harm. Many young people isolate themselves from others, feel guilty or humiliated. The coming together of government, state agencies, NGOs, industry and parents in a coordinated effort to respond to inappropriate behaviour and illegal behaviour is urgently needed. We ignore this issue at our peril, and more importantly, at children’s peril.”

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