Urgent warning to Portsmouth parents about paedophiles targeting children on Instagram, TikTok and Facebook

PARENTS are being urged to check their children’s social media accounts amid fresh fears predatory paedophiles are exploiting them in a sickening bid to fulfill their darkest sexual desires.

Monday, 29th March 2021, 6:01 pm
Updated Monday, 29th March 2021, 10:51 pm

Senior police officers alongside an IT expert from a Portsmouth school have issued the warning this week as concerns over perverts targeting innocent children increase.

Speaking to The News, Detective Inspector Sally French, of Hampshire Constabulary’s internet child abuse team, warned children turning to social media to reach out to people over lockdown had increased the risk of them of falling prey to paedophiles.

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‘There are so many different methods for children to keep in contact with each other now and, particularly given the lack of face-to-face contact they have had with their friends over the past year, it's understandable that they would want to make use of social media sites and online platforms,’ she said.

‘However, these methods of communication are also being used by people who wish to take advantage of children.

‘It's so important that parents continue to have discussions with their children about their activity online and are watching for any changes in behaviour which may be concerning to them.

‘You know your child better than anyone, and you will know when something is not right or their behaviour has changed.

‘Perhaps they have become very secretive with, or protective of, the devices they use or their social media. Or maybe they are more withdrawn or distracted than they have previously been.’

The plea comes as child protection charity the NSPCC called on the government to step in and clamp down on social networking giants in a bid to protect youngsters from online sex offenders.

Charity leaders have claimed social networking sites like Facebook and Instagram, alongside messaging network WhatsApp, were prime hunting grounds for sexual predators.

But video messaging apps like TikTok are also being used to groom youngsters.

Arundel Court Primary Academy, in Landport, Portsmouth, issued a warning to its parents about a new ‘disgusting’ TikTok ‘trend’, which sees people dressing up as ‘plague doctors’ to scare children and parents outside schools.

Although this has not reportedly happened in Portsmouth yet, Arundel Court’s ICT manager Luke Preston said children were ‘distressed’ and ‘worried’ by the trend.

And he warned pupils using social networking sites could fall victim to vile perverts online.

He insisted the school was doing now doing all it could to ramp up its efforts to keep its children safe online, with lessons and supportive advice already having been launched.

‘We’re really honing in on online safety now,’ he told The News. ‘It’s so important that we encourage parents to have conversations and have a look at what they’re watching.

‘The vast majority of parents are very good at monitoring their children and what they’re watching. But some children are scared about what they see online. They come into school and their friends are now scared.’

Hampshire police echoed calls for parents to monitor their children’s devices, while urging youngsters ‘not to become friends with people they don’t know’ online.

Children were urged to ‘think about the images the post online’ and to ensure the social media account’s privacy settings were at the highest level and to ‘never post’ their personal details

Det Insp French added: ‘We are still here and we want to help. I want people to know they can come to us if they have concerns, or that they can contact charities such as the NSPCC.

‘And if you try to exploit a child online, you will face the consequences.’

:: Those who are concerned about sexual abuse can call police on 101 – or 999 in an emergency.

:: Alternatively, call independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111, or children’s protection charity NSPCC’s helpline on 0808 800 5000.

:: Children can call Childline on 0800 1111.

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