Study: It takes 19 seconds for children to be exposed to high-risk grooming on social gaming platforms

KUALA LUMPUR: A global study revealed it only takes a mere 19 seconds for children to be exposed to high-risk grooming situations on social gaming platforms.

The latest report by WeProtect Global Alliance also indicated a 360 per cent increase in children aged seven to 10 sharing their own explicit images with sexual predators from 2020 to 2022.

"Conversations with children on social gaming platforms can escalate into high-risk grooming situations within 19 seconds, with an average grooming time of just 45 minutes.

"Social gaming environments that facilitate adult-child intermingling, exchanging virtual gifts and public ranking systems, significantly increase these risks.

"Many extorters pose as young girls online and predominantly approach boys aged between 15 and 17 via social media. They groomed and manipulated children into sharing sexual images and videos of themselves and then extorting them for monetary gain," the report read.

The research found a significant rise in financial sexual extortion, with reports of the harm increasing from 139 in 2021 to over 10,000 reports in 2022.

"This phenomenon has resulted in a string of cases where children have tragically taken their own lives," said the alliance.

The report said new technology such as generative artificial intelligence (AI) is used to create child sexual abuse materials and it heightened the threats that children face online.

"It was found that photorealistic computer-generated imagery (CGI) of child sexual abuse constitutes less than one per cent of shared child sexual abuse material files among the sample of offender communities. However, there has been a consistent increase in the volume of such content since August 2022," it said.

The biennial report also revealed there has been an 87 per cent surge in reported child sexual abuse cases since 2019, with over 32 million cases globally.

WeProtect Global Alliance executive director Iain Drennan said the findings underscored the pressing need for a coordinated, multi-faceted response to protect the world's children from the escalating threat.

"Children's safety must be non-negotiable. To prevent more children from being harmed, governments, online service providers, charities and companies must step up their efforts and work together to drive change and protect children.

"Last month, Australia, in a global first, put in place measures that require big tech companies to take steps to ensure AI products cannot be used to generate deepfake images and videos of child sexual abuse.

"In Malaysia, the Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) announced a review of the current online content regulation and framework in 2022," he said.

Unicef child protection director Sheema Sen Gupta echoed Drennan by saying governments urgently need to focus on large-scale prevention to put a stop to this alarming situation.

"Governments should invest in evidence-based interventions to protect children from sexual violence. Also, companies should be much more mindful of children's rights when developing digital products and services to prevent potential harm.

"Strong legislation is needed to protect children from all forms of online child sexual exploitation, future-proofed against rapidly evolving technologies," she said.

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