Alliance MLAs urge parents, teachers and youngsters to take a stand against Child Exploitation online.

POLITICAL OPINION - This item has been submitted on behalf of Sian Mulholland MLA of the Alliance Party.Sian Mulholland MLA, Alliance Spokesperson for Children and Young People, has long been a staunch advocate for fit for purpose internet safety awareness and is now turning her attention to combatting child exploitation online. She made her appeal following the recent case involving an individual ‘catfishing’ victims and eventually being charged with over 180 crimes including manslaughter, blackmail and child abuse
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Alliance MLAs urge parents, teachers and young people to take a stand against Child Exploitation online

Sian Mulholland MLA, Alliance Spokesperson for Children and Young People, has long been a staunch advocate for fit for purpose internet safety awareness and is now turning her attention to combatting child exploitation online. She made her appeal following the recent case involving an individual ‘catfishing’ victims and eventually being charged with over 180 crimes including manslaughter, blackmail and child abuse.

Mulholland said: ‘In a society where the digital landscape continues to evolve, ensuring the safety and well-being of our young people online is paramount. For years, conventional wisdom has taught young people that "what goes online, stays online." Whilst this advice has been well-intentioned, Mulholland acknowledges that it can instil fear in young people, taking away hope that issues can be resolved and that leaves them vulnerable to exploitation and blackmail.

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Mulholland states, "It's crucial that we shift the narrative from fear to empowerment. Young people need to know that if they find themselves in a situation where they are being blackmailed with inappropriate photos or content, there are ways to seek help. They should not feel alone or helpless. If you feel you can’t talk to a parent, there is help available from the Internet Watch Foundation and Childline.”

"We want young people to know that there is hope, there are avenues for resolution without resorting to drastic actions and the sooner you talk to a trusted adult, the sooner something positive can be done. By empowering young people with knowledge and support, we can create a safer online environment for all."

Education Spokesperson Nick Mathison backs this call and implores educators and parents alike to arm themselves with information to feel confident to tackle this issue and help protect the young people in their lives. “The Department of Education has rolled out the Safer Schools app in partnership with Ineqe Safeguarding Group and it provides information, podcasts, updates about the latest online platforms; all with a view to empower adults to have these difficult conversations with children and young people in a meaningful way.

“I would encourage any parent, carer or educator to engage with the resources available to them, to understand the online spaces that young people are utilising and familiarise themselves with the signs and symptoms of potential exploitation. As Chair of the Education Committee, I will be contacting the Minister of Education to understand what more can be done to support the education sector in keeping young people safe online”