Debate has been growing recently about the wisdom of online tutoring being conducted via Skype. It’s a great tool but I wonder how many people – students, their parents and tutors alike – have given much thought to the range of potential risks that arise when online contact is unrecorded and not monitored.
In the past 2 years, 184 children and young people from the UK reported being victims of online sexual blackmail and one can only guess at the number of cases that go unreported. Of course, the majority of cases involve contact that has originated on social networks or in chat rooms, but the Child Exploitation On-Line Protection Centre (CEOP) is warning of a rise in this kind of exploitation. And there is no doubt that offenders are very keen on opportunities that afford unrecorded contact with children.
Whilst most people are entirely genuine and safe, tutoring via Skype presents exactly the kind of opportunity offenders seek, simply because contact is not normally recorded and there is no moderation.
Imagine a child who is desperate to improve on their academic performance, perhaps feeling under pressure to meet expectations from parents or others. Now imagine an individual who recognises that desperation as vulnerability and is prepared and able to exploit the situation.
Or imagine a child who develops a crush on a tutor (just as can happen in ‘real world’ settings) and the adult exploits that situation to arrange contact and meetings outside the tutoring framework.
Of course, either of these scenarios could arise where the online tutoring is recorded and where moderating systems are in place, but those important safeguards make exploitation much less likely. It is also true that, where online tutoring involves those kinds of safeguards, potential offenders are far less likely to use the environment because their opportunities to exploit children are dramatically reduced.
There must be great tutors out there using Skype to reach their market. But there must also be people out there who have already identified opportunities to use that market to reach children for the wrong reasons. Why take the risk?
Having spent more than 25 years dealing with cases of child abuse, I cannot count the times I have seen parents unwittingly put their children at risk when they thought they were doing their best for them. For me, online tutoring is best delivered through systems that afford children tangible protection from harm and Skype does not afford that protection. To be fair, it wasn’t intended for that purpose so why use a fork when the dish needs a spoon?
The author of this blog post is Tony Domaille. He has over 30 years experience as a police officer, extensive experience in the field of child protection – as an investigator, practitioner and trainer. Tony holds a Certificate in Education (FE) from the University of the West of England, and is Child Protection Lead for David Niven Associates www.dnivenassociates.co.uk.