What is online sexual abuse of children? How can it be recognized? What are the legal options if a child has been sexually abused online? Read on to learn more about this growing concern among parents.
Children are online more than ever — they engage in daily internet use ranging from homework and research, to video games, chats, and even video conferencing with friends. However, this increased time online also exposes children to more sexual abuse risks.
The pandemic brought about unprecedented increase in online screen time, especially for children. Even as quarantine restrictions were lifted and students reintegrated back to in-person classroom teaching, use of the internet has remained high. This puts children in situations where they need to gain access to the internet more often.
As a result, cases involving online sexual abuse of children are growing in number. If you or a loved one you know have been impacted by online sexual abuse, contact us at our San Diego-based office at (619) 516-8166. We understand the nuances and sensitive issues involved in child sexual assault and abuse cases, and are on hand to guide you through the process.
What Is Online Sexual Abuse of a Child?
Online sexual abuse of a child is any type of child sexual abuse that happens through the internet. It can happen across any device that’s connected to the web, like computers, tablets, and mobile phones. And it can happen anywhere online, including:
- Social media
- Text messages
- Messaging apps
- Online gaming and chats
- Live-streaming sites
Online sexual abuse covers both activity occurring online, as well as offline and in person. A major aspect of the danger is not just the activity that happens while the child is online — perpetrators can potentially set up in-person meeting times, where direct physical abuse can happen.
Long-term effects of sexual abuse, including online abuse, can persist well into adulthood, and may include:
- Anxiety and depression
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Eating disorders and self-image issues
- Self-harm and suicidal thoughts/suicide attempts
- Feelings of shame, guilt, and confusion
- Relationship problems with family and friends
- Drug and alcohol abuse
Thus, it’s important to recognize when abuse is happening, stop it, and contact the authorities. Pursuing legal action can help expose predators, prevent future abuses, and hold liable parties accountable.
Who Is at Risk for Online Abuse?
Any child using the internet can be at risk of online abuse. This includes any use, anywhere — not just usage associated with homeschooling or homework purposes. Children represent a highly vulnerable segment of our communities, as they cannot consent to sexual activities in the same way a full-grown adult can.
Remember that children use the internet in many forms, not just on a computer — they can connect through smartphones, tablets, desktop computers, smart TVs, and other access points.
In particular, video games are a common source of online interaction with children. Many games are set up to be connected to the internet so users can play and speak with one another through the video game console. This is a common source of online abuse, harassment, stalking, and other issues.
What Are the Various Types of Online Abuse Children Can Be Exposed To?
Online sexual abuse can take many forms and involve several aspects of interaction and behavior. These may include:
- Sexting: Sexting happens when someone shares sexual, naked, or semi-naked images or videos of themselves or others, or sends messages of a sexual nature.
- Sexual exploitation: A child may be sexually exploited online if they are persuaded or forced to create sexually explicit photos or videos, or have sexual conversations, often for generating monetary gain for another.
- Cyberbullying: Cyberbullying or online harassment is any type of bullying that happens online. Online bullying can follow the child wherever they go through smartphones, and it can sometimes feel like there’s no escape. Cyberbullying is often tied into sexual abuse, such as when a child is bullied into sending explicit photos of themselves.
- Emotional Abuse: Emotional abuse involves the continual emotional mistreatment of a child, and can be of a sexual nature. This might include related issues like body shaming or shaming a person based on their sexual experiences (or lack of experiences).
- Grooming: This is when someone builds a relationship with a child so they can sexually abuse, assault, manipulate, or traffic them. This is often perpetrated by a stranger or someone in a position of authority over the child, such as a parent, step-parent, teacher, or religious leader.
- “Zoom Hacking” or “Zoom Bombing”: This is where a group of children is exposed to inappropriate materials by someone gaining unauthorized access to a class Zoom meeting
In some instances, a child may think that these types of behaviors are normal, and they might not know that they were subjected to any type of abuse. It’s important to keep an eye out for changes in behavior or other signs and symptoms that abuse might be occurring.
At the Pride Law Firm, our attorneys have dedicated our careers to recognizing and preventing sexual abuses of all sorts. We are specifically trained to provide the type of empathetic care and support survivors need as they navigate the legal system. Contact us at (619) 516-8166 for a private, confidential consultation for your case.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Online Child Sexual Abuse?
Signs and symptoms of online child sexual abuse can manifest in many ways. These might look like:
- Spending increasing or alarming amounts of time online
- Becoming increasingly secretive about their behavior, especially around use of technology
- Not talking openly about online activity
- Hiding their phone screen or shutting the door when someone gets near to them
- Becoming obsessive about their cell phone or worried if someone picks it up or wants to look at it
- Taking calls, texts, or emails in private
- Habitually leaving the home for periods of time with no indication of where they are going
- Speaking about a “new friend” or “new person they met online”
- Spending increased amounts of time communicating with one person online
- Not wanting to be alone with a particular adult or peer, who could be their abuser
- Inappropriate communications; for instance, teachers should never communicate with students privately via social media messaging
- Sudden, unexplained mood swings and personality changes
- Outbursts of irritation, anger, frustration, or rage
- Self-harming behaviors like cutting or disordered eating
Generally speaking, any new or unexpected behavior outside of the child’s normal moods and activities could indicate that they may be dealing with online sexual abuse.
What Should You Do if Your Child Was Sexually Abused Online? How Can You Protect Your Child From Online Predators?
If your child was subjected to sexual abuse online, you should:
- Let them know it’s not their fault — many survivors often feel responsible for what happened to them
- Tell them you will take their situation seriously and will take action for them
- Report what your child has told you as soon as you can
- Avoid communicating with the alleged abuser without first being represented by a lawyer; it’s even better to let your lawyer speak to them on your behalf
- Explain what the next steps might involve
Facing a sexual abuse situation can be a challenging and delicate matter. It’s best to contact a lawyer promptly, who can explain what your family’s legal options and rights are.
A lawsuit can provide monetary damages and compensation for losses like pain and suffering, any medical bills, costs of treatment or therapy, and other expenses.
Preventing Online Sexual Abuse of Children
Regardless of whether your child was abused or not, it’s important to know that you can take proactive steps in preventing online abuse from happening.
For many parents, the first step is knowing how the technology works. A gap in this type of knowledge is often how predators are able to communicate with the child in moments when they are not being monitored.
Many parents do not make efforts to keep up with the fast pace of technology associated with online devices. Parents should stay educated as the internet evolves. They make sure they are aware of the risks involved and should speak with their children about staying safe online.
Lastly, as mentioned, being in tune with your child’s physical, mental, and emotional habits is key. Any changes in their behavior, especially ones that seem to be connected with internet usage, is a sign that something may be wrong.
Contact a Lawyer for Representation
Due to the nature of online activity, many survivors of online sexual abuse may not actually be aware that they were subjected to abuse. They might think it is normal, or might not understand that they were being abused. If anything seems “off” or not right, contact the authorities and contact a lawyer right away.
At The Pride Law Firm, we have dedicated our careers to making sure survivors of online sexual assault and abuse obtain the full measure of recompense they are entitled to under the law. We always place our clients’ needs first, and are ready to listen with a caring and sympathetic ear.
Contact us at (619) 516-8166 to schedule a no-obligation consultation. We are here to ensure that your concerns and questions are addressed, and that you have someone on your side to pursue justice for you and your family.