COVID-19 June update:
The changing digital behaviour of young people
9th July 2020
There's now little doubt that the impact of children and young people spending more time alone, on their devices and online, is their increased exposure to an array of safeguarding risks.
The dedicated team in our InsightLab has been reviewing and analysing the safeguarding incidents reported to our schools and colleges over the lockdown months, in order to understand the national behaviour patterns and trending safeguarding risks - and continues to do this as lockdown measures start to ease up and the 'new normal' begins to set in.
Most recently the team has examined the safeguarding incidents reported in June, twelve weeks into the lockdown: reviewing the comparative data to assess what's changed since the earlier lockdown months and how this picture compares with a typical month in the pre-lockdown period.
Comparison of safeguarding risks - lockdown vs pre-lockdown
This line graph shows how the pattern of safeguarding incidents reported by eSafe has changed over-time:
Blue = pattern pre-lockdown (monthly average September 2019 - March 2020).
Orange = pattern in the first month of lockdown - April 2020.
Grey = pattern in the second month of lockdown - May 2020.
Yellow = pattern in the third month of lockdown - June 2020.
Analysis & commentary
The prevailing 'risk categories' have remained relatively consistent during the lock-down months, and can be summarised as follows:
- Mental health
Mental health related incidents continue to rise steadily, with 25% more incidents in this category reported in June compared with an average, pre lockdown, month.
Concerns about the future, amidst exam cancellations, are commonplace incidents in this safeguarding area amongst older teens. Other typical incidents reported in the mental health category are those where users are expressing anxiety about the pandemic, feeling disconnected and isolated.
While incidents such as these might be considered ‘low level’ right now, these first signs can lead to future mental health deterioration and long-term problems. Swift and effective interventions, that tackle these warning signs at an early stage, have an exponentially higher chance of success than when interventions happen further down the line - and can make a positive impact on individuals and their future mental health.
Every month since lockdown measures were instated, eSafe has detected a surge in the consumption of pornography - reporting 12x more incidents in this category in June than in an average pre-lockdown month. Indeed, our highest volume of reported safeguarding incidents is in this category.
Viewed content includes both adult pornography and the increasingly popular cartoon, anime and hentai pornography i.e. the depiction of illustrated or animated, fictional characters in erotic or sexual situations.
The relative ease with which young people are accessing pornography not only demonstrates the limitations of filtering software but also of the age-verification initiatives designed to prevent under-age consumers - and points to the important role eSafe plays: it's only when you have visibility of the issue that intervention and behaviour modification becomes a possibility.
- Stranger danger
There has been a slight decrease in the number of young people talking to strangers, particularly adults – in June compared with May - although this remains a prevalent risk.
The slight downturn in young people talking to strangers in June will have been influenced by a range of factors, including the increased awareness and modified behaviour of the monitored cohort, due to timely interventions - that have been made possible by eSafe alerts - in earlier lockdown months.
In this category of ‘stranger danger’, much activity is detected on Omegle and other apps designed to connect users with friends and strangers (such as Discord and Moviestar), as well as Reddit and social media platforms, with users sometimes crossing platforms to continue conversations with their new found 'friends'.
- Illegal incidents
While the volume is low in comparison with other risk categories, the number of illegal incidents we reported in June is almost 3x the volume we would expect to see in a typical month, pre-lockdown.
This rise in illegal incidents reflects an increase in the viewing of child pornography and webcam grooming of young people by adults. Users typically access this type of harmful content via social media accounts, often following a trail of links or hashtags to get to the illegal content.
The picture these statistics paint is one for concern yet, when safeguarding teams have early warning of a young person at risk, timely interventions - that focus on understanding the root causes and modifying the behaviour - are possible. It is only when you have this visibility of concerning behaviours that you can address them.
eSafe empowers school and college leaders in this way, helping them to create safe, positive environments for the children and young people in their care. For more information about eSafe, please get in touch.
There's no doubt that, without eSafe, we wouldn't have had visibility of a whole host of safeguarding risks that emerged during the lockdown. The service has quickly become a vital part of our safeguarding strategy.
Hentai pornography - in brief
While in Japan the term “hentai” refers to a type of perverse or bizarre sexual act, internationally “hentai porn” describes a type of animated porn that has become increasingly popular with young people over the last decade.
- Hentai porn sexualises everything from incest to beastiality, with rape and children being the recurring themes – often featuring disturbing fetishes such as animal tentacles, children (particularly young girls) and incest.
- Females are hyper-sexualised with large eyes and childlike expressions; petite, hairless bodies; over-sized breasts and exaggerated sexualised behaviour. They will typically be abused by monsters, demons, animals and plants.
- “Lolicon” is a sub-genre of hentai that often portrays frightened children who eventually enjoy the sexual abuse.
- Access to hentai porn is relatively easy – a simple search in Instagram, for example, will return a host of (highly inappropriate) possibilities for young people to explore.
eSafe's unique Pure Image Detection technology ensures that safeguarding teams are alerted when users search for or view animated pornographic content like this, even when there's no accompanying metadata.
eSafe is the only digital monitoring service that can detect safeguarding risks in static and moving images.
This includes cartoon, anime and hentai pornography which is very easy for young people to find, access and stumble across.
Covid-19 June update
09 Jul 2020
Covid-19 May update
07 Jun 2020
Covid-19 April update
05 May 2020
The safeguarding risks in platforms designed for young people to meet strangers
29 Jan 2020
4 essential building blocks for successful safeguarding
09 Dec 2019