The safeguarding risks trending right now.
5th May 2020
While there’s no doubt that the current lockdown is an absolute necessity to give us more protection from the coronavirus virus, the consequences of this situation for some children and young people are deeply concerning. Spending more time alone, on their devices and online, can increase their exposure to an array of safeguarding risks. In fact, without the school safety net, some are facing increased threats of violence and abuse. Warnings have been issued by the police and the National Crime Agency that children and young people are more vulnerable to predatory-style advances (e.g. on gaming sites, on social media and in video chat apps), with grooming and Child Sexual Exploitation of particular concern.
Four weeks into the coronavirus lockdown, the team at eSafe has analysed how the digital behaviour of children and young people, across the UK, has changed and how this is impacting their exposure to the range of safeguarding risks. We’ve compared and contrasted the volume and nature of safeguarding incidents detected on school/college/local authority owned devices (and the environments provided by these establishments) in the Autumn 2019 term with those detected in the first 4 weeks of the shutdown. In this way we have been able to draw conclusions about how the patterns of prevalent safeguarding trends have morphed around the limitations and ‘opportunities’ presented by the very different world in which we are currently living.
The bar chart illustrates the respective volumes of safeguarding incidents we have been detecting in the first 4 weeks of lockdown (orange) and under normal circumstances - data taken from the 12-week Autumn term 2019 - pre-lockdown (blue):
- Under normal circumstances, the biggest volume of incidents (more than 40%) that we report to our schools and colleges on a daily basis, perhaps unsurprisingly, fall into the ‘mental health’ category.
- During the lockdown, while we are reporting twice as many mental health incidents, it isn’t the largest category: the greatest number of incidents we’re reporting are in the pornography category (37%); a category which normally accounts for just 5% of incidents.
- Pre-lockdown, our 2nd and 3rd most reported categories were of ‘threats of violence’ and ‘drugs’. In the lockdown, incidents in these categories still occur but have reduced significantly.
- In the first four weeks of lockdown we have reported more ‘pornography’ incidents (indecent videos and imagery) than in the whole 12 weeks of the Autumn 2019 term. Much of this activity is taking place ‘offline’ – with pornographic imagery being viewed on external USB drives and on Windows Photo Viewer. The growing trend for “self-generated” child sexual abuse content, identified by the Internet Watch Foundation in their latest Annual Report, suggests children and young people are potentially creating the content themselves, using webcams and cameras, then downloading and distributing this content via these external drives.
- We have detected in excess of 3x more sexting & grooming incidents than normal, including grooming of minors as young as 10 years old. Much of this activity has been picked up in chats on social media platforms and gaming applications, like Roblox and Xbox chat.
- There has been a significant surge in children and young people talking to strangers: with 25x more incidents detected in the first month of lockdown compared with the whole of the 12-week Autumn 2019 term. Should this trend continue through May and June, this would equate to a staggering 74x more incidents of children and young people communicating with strangers. Unsurprisingly, much of the incidents detected so far in the lockdown have been from activity in the plethora of video and chat apps, like Omegle, that have seen a huge rise in popularity.
Our latest analysis was sparked by our own interest and to confirm what we suspected: the pattern of behaviour trends and safeguarding risks are significantly different in the lockdown. How transient these trends are remains to be seen; we will be keeping a close eye on this and sharing regular updates in our social media channels.
Did you know?
Illegal and inappropriate imagery often isn’t tagged with the descriptive metadata that other digital monitoring solutions need to detect it.
- 95% of the serious and illegal safeguarding incidents eSafe detects through imagery, that result in arrests in England and Wales, are not accompanied by metadata.
- In the coronavirus lockdown, eSafe is currently detecting a significant amount of serious safeguarding incidents, including grooming, CSE and pornography, in imagery that isn’t tagged with metadata.
eSafe is the only digital monitoring solution to use Pure Image Detection Technology - which means all imagery is monitored for safeguarding risks, whether or not it has any accompanying metadata.
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