The Finnish branch of Save the Children said it received nearly 3,000 tips regarding suspected online sexual exploitation of children last year. The group, however, told Yle News that while the number of tips has remained steady, it fears many cases are going unreported.
The NGO said it received the tips through its online service which allows people to anonymously report suspected child sexual abuse material as well as child grooming content. The organisation passes tips linked to illegal activities on to the authorities.
Last spring the group warned that the coronavirus shutdown was causing children to spend more time online, leaving them increasingly vulnerable to online sexual exploitation and grooming. The number of alerts did, however, not increase, prompting the group to suspect that many cases were not coming to light.
The NGO said children may not know what to do if they receive frightening or confusing messages online.
"In situations where kids feel guilty, they may not tell adults that they’ve received or replied to messages they perceive as embarrassing," Pauliina Sillfors, a child protection advisor at Save the Children Finland, said in a statement.
Save the Children said it wants to encourage children to contact them if they have experienced something inappropriate online. The group said tip-offs not only help investigators at the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) catch perpetrators and prevent them from abusing new victims, but also give victims access to help and support.
"Talk to your kids"
Sillfors told Yle News that parents should begin talking to their kids early on about potential dangers online--preferably before they get their own devices.
"I really hope that parents talk with children about the risks involved in using digital media," she said, adding that the topic of online sexual predators makes many parents uncomfortable, leading them to avoid the subject altogether.
"It’s important that parents start the conservation in a positive way. The best way to approach a difficult topic is to ask questions, such as, 'have you seen anything strange online'," she explained.