Predators target family-friendly sites

ONLINE predators with an "unsavoury interest" in children are increasingly targeting family-friendly websites and social media.

Social media, gaming sites and children's forums are providing unprecedented opportunities for predators to contact vulnerable children.

But Detective Superintendent Cameron Harsley, from Taskforce Argos child protection specialists, said public awareness meant officers were getting tip-offs from parents whose children had been targeted.

"More and more people are coming forward with names of people trying to engage their children online," he said.

"Often we will take over the accounts of those children and re-engage the person.

"What we're finding now is that people with this unsavoury interest toward children are starting to engage in innocent websites to then try to contact children.

"By innocent websites I mean family-oriented websites where you would not think child pornography would exist

"It's an avenue for accessing children or family contacts through normal activity websites ... social networking sites predominately.

"There's a trend where we will find a forum that is used by children, predators online very quickly become attuned to those forums.

"What is a trend this week will not be a trend next week because not only will the children move to another site but also the offenders move to other sites.

"About 80% of the people that engage in online activity will be contact offenders, by that I mean they are trying to get to a child to commit a real live offence against that child."

Det Supt Harsley, who was speaking ahead of the taskforce running a course this week to share methodologies with officers from other Australian states and Singapore, said the Argos team had refined its strategies so officers could engage with people trying to groom children within 10-15 minutes of going online.

He said officers initially had a minimal hit rate but they were now engaging people who want to groom children or trade child pornography material 85% of the time they were online.

"Importantly, we are sharing our knowledge and our skill base across other jurisdictions to attack what we see as a global issue," he said.

Det Supt Harsley warned parents should be aware of what their children were doing online at all times.

"If you're allowing your child on the internet you're opening the front door of your house," he said.

Taskforce Argos identified 18 child victims last year, 10 of them in Queensland, and removed them from harm.

Next week is Child Protection Week.

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