We have the power to change things

My daughter was targeted for online abuse when she was 14 years old. She’d had limited access to the internet and had been looking at Pinterest – a platform to share arts and crafts projects. I had thought this site was safe and I hadn’t realised that there was a ‘chat’ line linked to this. Men from all over the world started to bombard my daughter with sexualised messages in an attempt to abuse her.

For a while I tried to manage it myself, but it became overwhelming because the men followed her across different websites and platforms; Messenger, TikTok, Facebook, even her school gmail account. I contacted social services who referred us to the Multi Agency Sexual Exploitation Hub (MASH.)

I waited for months for a response. I was trying to hold down a job, look after my daughter and deal with her distress, then late at night and early in the morning I’d be checking the internet and collecting evidence.

My daughter didn’t meet the threshold for an intervention, apart from 6 sessions of CSE work. To my mind this was wholly inadequate because the focus was on informing my daughter about online safety (which she already knew) and there wasn’t any time to build trust with her and do any meaningful work.

It makes me angry that the onus is on the children to protect themselves and nobody is actually protecting the child other than the parent. I adopted my daughter and as a result of early trauma she tends to ‘go out of her body’ when in stressful situations which impacts upon her being able to recall everything that has happened.

I managed to access therapeutic input for my daughter from the post adoption support fund and feel we were lucky to have that. It upsets me that other families affected by online abuse may not have this option and will just be left on their own to find their way through. I’d collected evidence of the abuse but when none of the agencies seemed interested I just wanted to get rid of it, to get it out of our lives.

It’s like you’ve been burgled, you’ve shut your front door and you feel as if your home is safe and then these men break in through the internet and violate your child and as a result the whole family. I was told by the police that it was unlikely that they’d find those responsible.

I really want to acknowledge the challenges of parenting and protecting a child from online abuse; the loneliness and lack of support and just how challenging this is for parents when our whole culture expects children to be online, especially for education and learning.

Whilst dealing with my daughter’s distress I was having to learn my way around different platforms, develop new skills, the protections and loopholes. I was googling everything. I locked down the internet, but this meant I couldn’t use it for work. It’s exhausting. In the end I discovered Qustodio App which allowed me to block and restrict different apps and websites on my daughter’s devices only- it isn’t as good as they say, but it’s better than nothing.

The risks to my daughter have reduced massively, but I feel a real sadness that as my daughter should be developing independence, socialising, learning from her mistakes and taking more control, I’ve had to step in, lock everything down and almost stop her natural development.

I want to say that in my opinion, you can raise awareness of online abuse, but just as with sex education or drugs and alcohol awareness, or bullying, raising awareness amongst children isn’t going to stop children being targeted or being affected by them.Many of the social media services allow children from age 13 years onto their sites.

In my opinion social media platforms are not taking any responsibility for the content and dangers on their sites, there is little protection offered and no real regulation or enforcement.

I’m worried that the easy access to porn sites by young boys is distorting a whole generation’s view of sex. It has become normalised to share abuse images, photos and to disregard consent and respect- creating massive pressures on young girls. The whole onus is on the individual and children to manage these dangerous spaces and as a parent, focusing so intensely on my daughter’s safety online, I can tell you, it’s exhausting. If these platforms continue without putting safeguards in place, the number of children being abused online is going to keep growing.

It can feel out of control, but I want other parents out there to know that we can join together and change things.

Please sign this petition aimed at putting better safeguards in place for young people online.