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Hidden Harm campaign focuses on dangers for children online

“You don’t have to do anything anyone online tells you, whether you know them or not.”

Twelve-year-old Ellie (not her real name) built up a friendship via social media with someone claiming to be a 15-year-old boy.

The person she was speaking to was, in fact, a man in his 40s who ended up sexually assaulting her numerous times.

Her powerful message is at the heart of the second phase of Thames Valley Police’s Hidden Harm campaign, run in partnership with the NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children).

Det Supt Nick John, head of Thames Valley Police’s Protecting Vulnerable People Unit, said: “Ellie’s story is a powerful example of how something as simple as accepting a friend request from a person you don’t know online can escalate into something with serious consequences.

“The internet is a huge part of most of our lives, especially for the younger generation and while it brings a great deal of positive opportunities, unfortunately it can be misused by some people.

“This campaign is about making everyone aware of the potential risks associated with children being online, ensur-ing they can spot the signs that may indicate a child is being abused and educating everyone on ways we can all help to keep them safe.

“Keeping children safe from harm is everyone’s responsibility and we are very pleased to be partnering with the NSPCC for this element of the campaign.”

Emma Motherwell, NSPCC campaigns manager, said: “The internet offers so many great platforms for children to communicate and learn but, as Ellie has highlighted by bravely sharing her story, it does have its dangers.

“That’s why it’s so important that parents talk to their children about their online world, just as they do about their everyday lives, ensuring they are ready to listen and support them if something goes wrong.

“The NSPCC, working with O2, have produced some great resources such as the Net Aware app and Share Aware videos to help parents start this conversation.

“And throughout this campaign with Thames Valley Police and beyond we will be giving parents and children the practical knowledge and skills to help stay safe online.”

There will be a range of activities over the next three weeks to promote the campaign, from awareness raising through social media to face-to-face engagement with children and adults at community events.

Teachers are being encouraged to access the free resources on offer to raise the matter with their students.

The police will also be hosting online safety workshops for parents and working with local partners to ensure their messages reach as wide an audience as possible.

More information on the campaign, and the signs of online child abuse, can be found on www.thamesvalley.police.uk/hiddenharm.

To host an NSPCC/O2 online safety workshop for parents at workplaces, community venue or school, email parentworkshops@nspcc.org.uk

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