The man sought out families in shopping centres, parks and other public spaces, for a good cause – to raise awareness of the risks posed by strangers ‘following’ young people online, as part of a social experiment setup by children’s charity, Barnardo’s.
Barnardo’s Chief Executive Javed Khan, said: “We made this video because we know just how susceptible all children are to being groomed online and then being sexually abused offline.”
The undercover filming features the man asking different unsuspecting families if he can follow their children and explaining that he has similar interests and lives in the same area as their children.
The parents’ reactions range from being totally baffled by the request, to seething with anger.
The ‘Follow Me’ video was purposefully designed to shine a light on the inconsistency between how parents would react to this behaviour in the real world, but not preventing the same thing happening to their child online.
“Children make friends very quickly with people they’ve only just met online,” explained Khan.
“They don’t regard them as strangers, or see the risks they might pose.”
Barnardo’s child sexual exploitation (CSE) services say two thirds of children supported by them had been groomed online before going on to meet the person and then suffered sexual abuse.
They have seen a 38% increase in the number of children they supported through this issue in the last twelve months.
“What starts as an innocent and harmless chat with a ‘friend’, can very quickly develop into a dangerous relationship with devastating consequences,” said Khan.
The charity tells parents the most important things to do to keep your child safe online are make sure they use age-appropriate sites, use the highest possible privacy settings and parental controls.
Also help your child to understand the consequences of sharing images and personal information with people they do not know online.
The charity has published guidance on ways parents and carers can help keep their children safe online.