All the guys have sexting related experiences

The alarm of Ernesto Caffo, president and founder of Telefono Azzurro: “In the meetings we hold in Italian schools, we find that all children live experiences that are somehow linked to sexting and grooming. that is to say, to all those phenomena that take place in the network in which there is a strong component of sexual exploitation by not only the adults, but also sometimes also of the companions. An element that facilitates these behaviors is the pornography ”.

In 2021, the Postal Police dealt with 5,316 cases of child pornography, an increase of 47% compared to 2020. The number of minors approaching the network by abusive adults increased to 531; In addition, between 2021 and 2020, reports of the online presence of CSAM (Child Sexual Abuse Material) material increased by 64%, with 97% of reported cases related to underage women. Compared to 2020, photos and videos depicting children and adolescents in explicit sexual activities have almost doubled, while cases of pedophilia and online sexual abuse managed by Telefono Azzurro have almost tripled. Impressive figures, however, only represent the tip of the iceberg, as the vast majority of episodes of abuse escape all control and monitoring. But what are the causes of the boom in online violence? How can children and adolescents be helped to defend themselves? And what are the warning signs that parents should be aware of? On the occasion of the National Day against pedophilia and child pornography he talked to the teacher about it Ernesto Caffo, president and founder of Telefono Azzurroa non-profit organization founded in 1987 that in these 35 years of activity has listened to the requests for help of thousands of children.

Ernesto Caffo, president and founder of Telefono Azzurro

Ernesto Caffo, president and founder of Telefono Azzurro

Professor, how do you explain the boom in child pornography cases handled by the Postal Police in 2021?

In fact, the phenomenon of child pornography is greatly underestimated and the data we have represent only the tip of an iceberg that is much larger than we think the statistics. In fact, not all victims file a complaint, in fact, the vast majority of them do not talk about it at home or at school, much less with the police and judicial authorities. Online abusers feel a strong sense of guilt, fearing the consequences of their story and the judgment of others. Therefore, the numbers we have found are only the expression of a small part of the problem; In the meetings that the Telefono Azzurro holds in Italian schools we have found that all boys and girls have a clear idea of ​​what we are talking about. Everyone has experiences that are somehow linked to sexting and grooming, that is, to those phenomena that occur in the network in which there is a strong component of sexual exploitation by not only adults but also sometimes also from peers. One factor that facilitates these behaviors is obviously pornography.

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What do you mean?

For some years now, the porn market has been free and often made up of self-produced content even by young and very young people: there is an invasion of freely accessible platforms without any payment or age control. In many cases, porn is very addictive: according to some studies, many young people, even very young ones, claim that they constantly go to porn sites. The problem, however, is that children do not yet have the tools to properly decipher what they are looking at, they inevitably end up considering these practices and behaviors as normal and correct, including those related to violent and “perverse” sexuality. To all this we must add that more and more often children agree to expose themselves, even showing themselves to adults in exchange for small gifts and sometimes sums of money.

Parents and schools do not always treat sexuality issues properly.

True, this is a major limitation of our education system. There is not much talk about sexuality in homes or schools.

Online child abuse increased in 2021 compared to 2020. Is there any correlation with the outbreak of the SarsCov2 pandemic?

The pandemic was a period in which the loneliness of children shifted their interest to the Internet, which they attended to constantly and continuously in the absence of other stimuli and opportunities in the “real world.” Sexuality is a topic that all teenagers live normally, as a result of the isolation caused by Covid has facilitated the exchange of messages, photos and videos, also leading to very toxic and delicate situations in which abuse has proliferated.

Some messaging services, such as Telegram, are full of groups of thousands of users exchanging thousands of messages every day, even with a history of child pornography. Why is it difficult to close these groups?

In recent years, there has been an increase in sensitivity on the part of some messaging platforms, which have tried to activate chat verification paths by also equipping themselves with special moderators. Other platforms, such as Telegram, have never adapted to these good rules by stating that they are not responsible for the materials exchanged between their users. The problems are different: international law is still immature and there is no adequate regulatory framework. An important step forward will be taken on 11 May, when the European directive on online child safety will be published. We need an agreement that, while guaranteeing messaging platforms, protects the rights of users, especially the weakest. Therefore, we also need sanctions that can be applied quickly, because online abuse is continuous and constantly increasing worldwide. No time to waste. If an image of child pornography is circulating on the Internet, it should be possible to intervene not after hours or days, but after a few seconds. This also requires a lot of technological work.

How to recognize online grooming? What can boys and girls do to defend themselves?

It is important that you talk about it from an early age. Children need to be told what grooming is, what can happen on the net, how chats work, and what inconveniences they face. As Telefono Azzurro, we have found that young people are perfectly capable of debating these issues and talking about them with full knowledge of the facts; they almost never do this to the family for fear of adult judgment, but they are able to reflect on these issues and even help each other. Peer to peer works great; boys and girls do not help each other by going to school in uniform. They need to be held accountable and listened to because they frequent the network and know how to use it much better than adults.

How, on the other hand, can adults recognize situations of danger to their children?

There are many signs that it is good to catch: it often happens to see young people upset and worried, for example many unsubscribe from their profiles on social networks and in general when it happens we need to ask why. It often means that they were afraid, that they had been mistreated, but that they were afraid to talk about it openly. Instead, we need to talk about these things very early on, starting at 8, 9, 10, often even earlier. Don’t worry about doing it too late and teens have lost faith in adults. Nor is it necessary to ban and present digital as an evil. The Internet is part of the lives of children. Denying them access with the hope of protecting them is useless and harmful.

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