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February 2020
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GPSJ exclusive: School children subjected to online abuse in class when using live streaming apps

Many broadcasts live during school hoursBy Stuart Littleford MCIJ

Police are investigating after the Government & Public Sector Journal (GPSJ) discovered school children being asked to indecently expose themselves live online during lesson time.

The school children are using a popular live streaming app installed on their smart phones to broadcast live to thousands of viewers around the world. Teachers are unaware of what is going on as the children are cleverly hiding their phones out of sight.

At one school, Becket Keys Church of England School, in Brentford, Essex, two female pupils were seen publicly broadcasting live during one lesson with their teacher present at the front of the class, totally unaware of what was taking place, the girls chatted to viewers live on their phone and showed various shots of the classroom and the teacher.

Two viewers asked one of the schoolgirls to “film up her skirt” and another asked one of them to expose her breasts, another said he wanted to “f*** their brains out”, all these vile remarks were seen by hundreds of other viewers. There was a constant flow of generally abusive and degrading sexual comments made to the children whilst they were online.

Another school, Greenshaw High School in Sutton, Surrey, saw two girls streaming live from a lesson with their phone cleverly hidden between two computer monitors and out of sight of their teacher, they proceeded to give out their social media contact details to viewers who asked for them – with one viewer asking if they “were watching porn”.

A female pupil at the Harris Academy Falconwood, in Kent, had her phone hidden in her school bag and was able to talk into it unnoticed during her lesson, one comment amongst many made to her was “you show boobs”, the broadcast ended abruptly as the teacher came to stand nearby.

Other live feeds showed schoolgirls in a PE lesson at a South of England academy, again online strangers made lewd sexual comments including “I am wa**ing over you” and “get your t*ts out”.

Pupils at secondary schools in towns such as Hull, Huddersfield, Barnet, Haringey, Lewisham, Derby, Sutton, Greenwich, Newham, Lewisham, Enfield, Haringey and many more, have been seen broadcasting live from lessons, leaving them open to the same type of online abuse. These live feeds are taking place all over the UK at all times of the school day and for different lengths of time.

Debbie Abrahams, MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth and Shadow Minister for Disabled People, said: “This is a shocking revelation by the Government & Public Sector Journal.”

Although none of the broadcasts we saw showed any sexual or indecent images, the comments made by some of those watching was clearly an attempt to have the girls expose themselves sexually. Many law enforcement agencies and child protection units would class this as grooming and exploitation. The ages of those contacting the girls could not be determined though due to the anonymity of the site.

GPSJ immediately contacted all the schools that could be identified to ensure they could follow their safeguarding procedures to ensure the safety of the children. None of the schools we contacted were prepared to provide us with any comment over our findings.

Ironically, mixed in with the list of live broadcasts from schools was a live meeting of the Warwickshire Police and Crime Panel.

A leading children’s charity said it was extremely concerned at the way social media was being used in schools and that makers of such apps should act responsibly to help protect children.

Barnardo’s chief executive, Javed Khan said: “It’s deeply shocking that children are being groomed and exploited via this social media app while in school where they should be safe. “A wider conversation needs to be had around how children use their phones and the consequences in school and at home. The companies making apps must exercise social responsibility and moderate content to help protect children and alert police to sexual predators – here in the UK and across the globe. “Technology has inevitably changed the way young people communicate and meet online. Barnardo’s wants lessons on sex and healthy relationships to be compulsory in all schools, so children can understand the risks of social media apps like this.”

A Department for Education spokesperson told us: “Nothing is more important than keeping our children safe. Our statutory guidance is crystal clear that anyone who has concerns about pupils’ welfare should refer to local authorities or the police if a crime is committed, and all schools must act swiftly on allegations. All schools must have designated safeguarding leads and staff should speak to them with any worries about a child’s welfare.”

Politicians have also told us that the government should now make it one of its top priorities to ensure children are given adequate sex and relationships education, and are fully aware of online dangers.

Debbie Abrahams, MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth and Shadow Minister for Disabled People, said: “This is a shocking revelation by the Government & Public Sector Journal and we must all do everything we can to warn children, their parents, carers, and schools about the potential dangers.

“Labour has highlighted increasing evidence that access to new media and technology is creating new and unprecedented risks for young people.

“We’ve also said that we want to make personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) classes, which covers age appropriate sex education, compulsory in all state-funded schools in England and this would be one of the first things Labour would do in government. On the other hand the Government is only saying it will keep the subject’s status under review.

“This seems short-sighted to me when you consider the official guidance to all schools, including academies, on sex-and-relationships education has not been updated since 2000, before the smartphone generation were even born.

“The Government really should make this issue a priority and stop stalling.

“The longer they stall the more young people will be hurt by this misuse of modern technology.”

A headmaster at one London school, who wished to remain anonymous, told GPSJ: “At our school (an 11-18 London inner city comprehensive) phones are not allowed to be used, seen or heard whilst on the school site. They are confiscated if seen or heard and returned at the end of the week. This is done for two reasons – distraction from learning and the concerns about inappropriate use.

“In addition to this all students receive instruction on the safe use of phones, social networking and electronic communication through their ICT and PSHE curriculums with additional meetings for parents held each year to discuss issues of concern relating to phone an internet safety.

“We are aware of cases where phones and electronic communication are used inappropriately and we see it as our key duty to keep our students safe. If we were to be aware of any issues compromising safety we would immediately involve parents, police and local authority safeguarding officers immediately.”

Professor John Walker, an expert witness in the field of cyber and digital communications at Westminster University, told us: “Such online exchanges are fraught with danger, just because of the potential of being subjected to grooming by an unknown party who may not be all they appear to be. But the dangers faced also concern such mages being utilised to embarrass, and to implicate the sender to be subjected to blackmail -an incident we have already seen to suffer a tragic outcome.

“It should be incumbent on all schools, and academic institutions who host such young clients to ensure that all staff are aware of the dangers, and that they are prepared to engage when they encounter events which implicate such activities. I would wish also that such institutions are aware of the COPINE and SAP Scale which document in detail the level of an abuse image to assure they are dealt with in accord with the law – and where required reported to the relevant Law Enforcement Authorities.”

The ‘periscope’ app is not only popular with young people, it is used by many businesses, media organisations, police forces and charities to stream meetings and conferences live. Viewers can type comments and ask questions in real time, these are displayed in real time on the screen for all the viewers to see. Love heart symbols can be sent by participants of the feeds to show how much they like the content they are watching.

Government & Public sector Journal has been in contact with the National Crime Agency and CEOP to report our findings, and will be cooperating with any investigations.

A police source has told us they understand one of the pupils identified in these broadcasts has possibly been exchanging “indecent images” of herself through other social media apps.

A spokesperson for the NCA told us: “We need to wait until appropriate enquiries have been made. We cannot comment without better understanding what we are being asked to comment on.

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