Youngsters feel safe in the “sanctuary” of their bedrooms, but that chat room banter may not be what it seems.
ICAT boss Det Insp Simon Lovett says so many details of our lives are already out there on the Internet that a paedophile can easily pose as a “friend” around our age who already knows our family, school pals, interests and favourite pop groups.
He said: “It’s like opening the front door and letting in people you don’t know.”
His best advice to young people is, if you don’t know someone, don’t chat – and never agree to meet them.
He said: “Do not engage in personal conversations, sexually explicit conversations, because once it’s on the Internet – once it’s over your webcam – it’s recorded.
“These people do try to meet young people – children should never meet up with strangers without being with an adult they trust.
“It’s be safe, really. Be safe, be secure, be sensible.”
Det Insp Lovett also heads the Lincolnshire Police Dangerous Persons Management Unit which oversees 644 registered sex offenders in Lincolnshire.
The register includes people who have committed sex offences against adults as well as children.
Det Insp Lovett said there is no stereotypical child sex offender and they are found in all professions, all aspects of the community, and can be young or old.
He has come across cases where child sex offenders here have linked up with child abusers in countries such as Vietnam and have dictated over Skype the type of abuse they want to be inflicted on a young victim and watch it happen.
Det Insp Lovett said: “There are millions and millions of indecent images of children on the Internet and every one of them is a crime scene.”
He describes the images and abuse as “sickening”, but that makes him – and his team – more determined to catch offenders.
“I get a lot of job satisfaction when we get these people arrested and prosecuted and we safeguard the children that are being abused,” he said.
In January last year, ICAT officers kicked in the door of a Lincoln offender after recognising his home from a web image and rescued two children who were with him.