Defend against grooming

  • 9th July 2024

Safeguarding trainer and consultant Dave Wasley paints a scenario of a serious safeguarding threat involving an independent school and the best ways to deal with it


On a Monday at 8.30am the distraught mother of a nine-year-old pupil asks to speak to the head immediately. Her child is a weekly boarder. She meets the head and reports that over the weekend she checked her daughter’s internet history and was horrified to see that she had been looking at pornographic sites.

She spoke to her child who talked about meeting a “special friend” while playing a child’s game online. She had apparently joined a chatroom with the friend and disclosed to her mum that she had sent some “naughty” pictures (in which she was posing naked) and made a special video for the friend. She told her mum it was a grown-up game and she had been in her bedroom at home. She is very frightened.

The child said two other schoolfriends had played the same game. They had a sleepover recently and while upstairs alone they had also sent pictures of themselves to the “special friend”.

The parent tells the head she does not want anyone else involved as she’s embarrassed about what has happened. She is good friends with the other children’s parents and insists they are not told.

The school could consider the following possible courses of action:

Option 1

Do what the mum says:

  • Advise the mum to tell her child not to send any more pictures.
  • Tell her to delete any photos and videos.
  • Don’t tell the other parents.
  • Send a letter to parents about general e-safety issues.
  • Run a general e-safety session later in the term for children.

Option 2

Speak to the child to get a full account of what happened:

  • Ask the girl to name the other children and then speak to those children.
  • Tell them to delete any photos and videos they have.
  • Contact the relevant parents and ask them what they want to do.
  • Do nothing else at this stage.

Option 3

Reassure the mum:

  • Keep an accurate record of what she says.
  • Immediately ascertain if the child and the other children are safe. If not, consider what needs to be done.
  • Follow the established safeguarding procedures irrespective of mum’s wishes.
  • Tell the mum not to delete anything.
  • Ascertain the identity of the other children. Pass this information to social services when making the initial referral.
  • Consider how to offer ongoing support.
  • Run some additional e-safety lessons.
  • Arrange an e-safety session for parents.


Which is the best option?

Option 1

This is not a good choice. Although the school might abide by the parent’s wishes, it’s not addressing the safeguarding issues. The school has an obligation to report this matter in line with safeguarding procedures. The school must consider the other children.

Option 2

This is another poor choice. It’s not necessary to speak to the child as the school has the parent’s account of what happened. Irrespective of the parent’s wishes, this needs to be reported. There are already three victims and there could be more.

Option 3

This is the only correct option. Always make a comprehensive record and retain it. Always ask whether the child is currently safe. Once this matter has been reported, the school needs to consider how to support the children in the future and consider how to address issues about online safety for existing children and parents.

It is advisable in a situation like this or similar situations to take the following actions:

  • Listen carefully and make an accurate record.
  • Always consider the child’s current safety.
  • Ask the parent to retain any evidence.
  • Reassure the mum and child (the child has done nothing wrong and should be praised for telling her parent).
  • The school has a duty of care and must report this irrespective of what the parent wants. The safeguarding and welfare of all children are paramount.
  • Review whether the school knows how to support a child in these circumstances.
  • Consider whether, as a governing body, you are satisfied that the school provides sufficient guidance to pupils about online risks. Review your e-safety policy.
  • Consider whether, as a governing body, you are satisfied the school is doing all it can to provide similar advice to parents.
  • Consider whether, as a governing body, you have sufficient oversight of safeguarding issues.
  • Consider whether your school has trained CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Protection) trainers who can deliver e-safety training.
  • Is the school signed up to the parents information service provided by CEOP at: to enable it to stream e-safety advice to the school website?
  • Ensure all school governors receive safeguarding training.


Sextortion alert

On 29 April, the National Crime Agency issued an alert to hundreds of thousands of education professionals following a considerable increase in global cases of financially motivated sexual extortion – a type of online blackmail widely known as ‘sextortion’.

Sextortion involves people being forced into paying money or meeting another financial demand, after an offender has threatened to release naked or semi-naked photos of them. This could be a real photo taken by the victim, or a fake image of them created by the offender.

The unprecedented warning comes after the number of global sextortion cases reported to the US National Center for Missing & Exploited Children more than doubled last year, rising to 26,718 compared to 10,731 the year before.

Both sexes and all age groups are being targeted, but a large proportion of cases have involved male victims aged between 14 and 18 – 91% of victims in UK sextortion cases dealt with by the Internet Watch Foundation last year were male.

These crimes can be perpetrated by overseas organised crime groups, predominantly in some West African countries, but some are also known to be located in Southeast Asia. They are motivated by making money quickly, rather than by sexual gratification, and in some cases have gone from initial contact to blackmailing victims in under an hour.

Advice to parents and carers if their child says someone is trying to trick, threaten or blackmail them online is don’t pay, stop contact and block.

You may be tempted to pay, but there’s no guarantee this will stop the threats. As the offender’s motive is money, once you’ve shown you can pay, they will probably ask for more and the blackmail will continue. If you’ve already paid, don’t panic but don’t pay anything more. Help your child to stop all communication with the offender and block them on any accounts they have been contacted on.

Avoid deleting anything. Try not to delete anything that could be used as evidence, such as messages, images, telephone numbers and bank account details.

Report to the police or CEOP and call 101 or 999 if there’s an immediate risk of harm to your child. Or you can use the CEOP Safety Centre to report any online blackmail attempts.

Adults can also support youngsters in getting their images removed using Childline and the Internet Watch Foundation’s Report Remove tool, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s Take It Down tool, and reporting to the platform or app it has been shared on.

Further information for parents and carers on how they can support their child can be found in the CEOP Education’s online blackmail article.

Dave Wasley

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