WINNIPEG, MB: With the staggering growth in reports of offenders targeting children through social media platforms, the Canadian Centre for Child Protection (C3P) has issued ‘The Horse’ - a powerful campaign about the dangers the unregulated internet has evolved into for children.
"We’re handing kids technology that is being weaponized against them by predators. There are no meaningful guardrails in place to keep them safe in the same way we protect kids offline,” says Lianna McDonald, Executive Director of C3P. “We need all Canadians – especially parents – calling on government to regulate the platforms that make it possible for offenders to virtually enter our children’s bedrooms.”
Today more than 77% of Canadian children ages 9 - 17 have a smart phone.1 Parents and caregivers see them as tools for keeping children safe and connected. What they may not realize, however, is these devices are also Trojan Horses that can give offenders direct, 24-7 access to children in their homes, bedrooms and schools.
The numbers are disturbing:
- 29% of children have had an adult or someone they did not know send them sexually explicit content online. Most often, they received this content on their own mobile phone.2
- 36% of children in one Finnish study had been asked at least once a month to show or send nude photos of themselves, while 50% had received messages with sexual content in the same timeframe.3
- A Swedish study reports that 46% of girls and 29% of boys age 10-13 had been offered money for nude photographs; while 80% of girls and 63% of boys had received unsolicited nude photographs.4
Unlike offline, where governments have rules and regulations for products, companies, and spaces that serve children, their online counterparts simply do not exist. The responsibility and blame has entirely — and unfairly — been placed on parents.
From a Canadian mom whose son died by suicide last year after being sextorted:
“On February 19th of last year our son Daniel took his life after being a victim of an online organized sextortion ring. He was 17 years old. Every day our family has to wake up to this nightmare. This was not his fault.
Every time I read an article about a child being victimized online, it always goes back to the parents - watch your child online and have the hard conversations. We did all those things. We talked to them whenever we read about a new risk online. Despite our online safety coaching; a Nigerian scammer posing as a young women coerced Danny into sharing intimate images of himself over SnapChat. These predators then used the images to blackmail him. He emptied his bank account of the $300 he had, trying to pay them off. That wasn’t enough for them and they kept up the demands or his image was being released to all his family and friends. Danny felt backed into a corner and like he was the criminal. Our family now tragically knows how easily anonymous online terrorists can access children.
We ask you to please consider regulatory bills that will force social media companies to make their products safer for our children. We ask you to think of Danny.”
The campaign film is available at protectchildren.ca/TheHorse, where the public can also take a short survey about what they think should be done to safeguard children online.
To protect children everywhere, we need governments around the world holding tech companies to account. Thank you to our international allies for supporting this campaign: 5Rights Foundation, Fairplay, ECPAT Sweden, Suojellan Lapsia, Innocence in Danger Germany, and the Marie Collins Foundation.
- 1 MediaSmarts. (2022). Young Canadians in a wireless world Phase IV: Life online. https://mediasmarts.ca/sites/default/files/2022-11/life-online-report-en-final-11-22.pdf ↩
- 2 WeProtect. (2021). Estimates of childhood exposure to online sexual harms and their risk factors: A global study of childhood experiences of 18 to 20 year olds. https://www.weprotect.org/wp-content/uploads/Estimates-of-childhood-exposure-to-online-sexual-harms-and-their-risk-factors-.pdf ↩
- 3 Save the Children Finland. (2021). Grooming in the eyes of a child: A report on the experiences of children on online grooming. https://pelastakaalapset.s3.eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/main/2021/08/03151159/grooming_in_the_eyes_of_a_child_2021.pdf ↩
- 4 ECPAT Sweden. (2021). “Everything that is not a yes is a no”: A report about children’s everyday exposure to sexual crimes and their protective strategies. https://ecpat.se/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/ECPAT-Report-2021_Everything-that-is-not-a-yes-is-a-no.pdf ↩
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