220 investigations underway into New Zealanders sharing sex abuse images

Police, Internal Affairs, and school guidance counsellors have told Newshub they're growing increasingly concerned with the level of 'sextortion' and online grooming aimed at Kiwi kids.

It follows revelations on Sunday from Newshub that social media companies are being accused of not doing enough to help authorities clamp down on child sex abuse material.

Newshub can now also reveal that Internal Affairs currently has 220 open investigations into New Zealanders trading sex abuse images. And so far, at least 18 Kiwi kids have been removed from harm.

"We have overseas children being exploited by Kiwi offenders. We have Kiwi children being exploited by New Zealand offenders as well," says Detective Senior Sergeant John Michael, who leads the Police's covert online team.

At the same time, police are now dealing with a phenomenon called 'sextortion'. Essentially, this is the process of grooming a young person, which often begins when the person messages a child or teen to befriend them.

Once they've started receiving explicit pictures, the groomer will often threaten the recipient they share those images to friends, families, or schools.

And it's not just happening between children and people much older than they are, it's happening within schools too - where older students are the abusers.

"If those young women say no they come under considerable pressure and sometimes blackmail from young men to actually give those pictures out", says Jean Andrews, who represents school counsellors in the New Zealand Association of Counsellors.

The impact of 'sextortion' can be destructive to victims, and police are wary of the mental health impact that this can have.

"Internationally, you know, some law enforcement agencies have been collecting statistics around the harm caused by this. And sadly, you know, you have young people committing suicide because of this type of offending. I'm not aware of any cases in New Zealand, but certainly in other countries overseas," says Det Snr Sgt Michael.

Andrews says it's not right to assume we're talking about much older men here, as it's also occurring between within schools too between students who might be the same age or just are few years apart.

"[They say] if you don't send a pic, we will send out a pic telling people it is your pics, or we will tell your boyfriend you've given us pictures, or we will out you as a slut".

Police are hearing about cases like this every week.

"Not a week goes by when a school community officer or an investigator [doesn't] contact us about a school where there's children who are involved and making and distributing such explicit material of themselves," says Det Snr Sgt Michael.

Netsafe says its advice for parents is to not freak out but to acknowledge this sort of criminal behaviour does exist. Netsafe says it's important to have a conversation with children that some people may misrepresent themselves online and to have that conversation maybe a couple of years earlier than you may have originally planned.

If you are concerned about your child's activity online, you can call Netsafe on 0508 Netsafe, or text 'Netsafe' to 4282. If you believe a child is in immediate danger, call 111. 

If you have witnessed or experienced sexual harassment or assault and would like to speak to someone, you can call the HELP support service.

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