Ten years ago I was groomed online – the Online Safety Bill must not be delayed any longer
Ten years ago, I was at the start of five years of being groomed and sexually exploited online by a man I met on Facebook.
Ten years on, I’m yet to see legislation that will stop young people facing the harm I faced online. Instead, I’m seeing a tenfold increase in online child sexual abuse offences recorded by police in England and Wales over the last decade.
I was 13 years old, being bullied at school, when I accepted a friend request from a man on Facebook. He started talking to me and it felt like he cared about me. He moved our conversations to WhatsApp where he sexually exploited me until I turned 18. I was desperate for the abuse to stop but never felt in a position to report it.
The longer the bill is delayed, the more young people will be harmed online
I can’t pinpoint a single product decision that led to me being groomed, risk was ingrained into every step of my interactions with my abuser. From the incentive to add friends to appear popular, to how easily it moved from an unencrypted platform to an encrypted one, each product decision failed to prioritise and act on the risk posed to children, to me.
I started campaigning after years of being powerless and unable to stop the abuse. I want to stop others experiencing harm online. We need transparency around how decisions are being made and oversight from a regulator to ensure risks are identified and mitigated. This is what the Online Safety Bill offers: a sustainable way for the safety needs of all users, especially children, to be considered and designed for by online platforms holistically.
I’ve spoken to G7 interior ministers, the Home Secretary, the previous education secretary, the CEO of Ofcom and the former minister for tech and the digital economy about the Online Safety Bill I wanted – a bill I needed ten years ago when I was alone and vulnerable to abuse in my own bedroom. During the last parliamentary year, I’ve sat alone in my room again, this time glued to my laptop watching Parliament TV and cheering this bill through Parliament. But since the bill has been paused, I’m made powerless once again.
Last week, 14 other campaigners and I wrote to the Conservative leadership candidates, Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, urging them if they become prime minister to continue the Online Safety Bill’s passage through Parliament. We all have our own stories of online harms, other signatories of the letter include families who have lost a loved one because of online harm, survivors of grooming, and survivors of peer-on-peer abuse.
The longer the bill is delayed, the more young people will be harmed online. For children, the risk is not “hurt feelings” it is life-long harm. I have spent the last five years learning to live with thoughts of self-harm and suicide, not knowing if I’m still at risk of further harm. My perpetrator is still out there and could share the images he has of me at any time.
The next prime minister will make key decisions on the future of this bill. They can choose to progress this as a matter of urgency and work with survivors and family members of those affected to work towards a safer internet for children. Or they can further delay or weaken this bill, and we’ll watch as the rates of young people experiencing preventable harm continues to rise.
Regardless of who next leads this country, myself and other campaigners will push for regulation that our generation wish we had, that the next generation deserve. I urge you to listen to us, amplify our voices, and commit to working with us to deliver this bill now.
Anonymous is a survivor of online grooming and child sexual exploitation online and has campaigned with the NSPCC for better protections for children online since 2020.
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