On the show earlier this afternoon, Loose Women launched a brand new feature called ‘Loose Women Undercover’, where the women will investigate issues affecting viewers today.
For the first installment, Loose Women’s Nadia Sawalha and Linda Robson spent a day with a ‘paedophile hunter’ from group ‘Internet Interceptors’ to discover how quickly a child could fall victim to a paedophile online.
The investigation comes at a time when viewers may have bought their children electronic devices for Christmas and are possibly unaware of the online safety settings available.
During their meeting, the paedophile hunter set up three decoy profiles, using historical pictures of adults when they were aged 11, 12 and 13 and let Nadia and Linda witness the messages the ‘young girls’ received.
Speaking on the show today about her experience, Linda said: “[It was] Within seconds, hundreds of middle aged men [approached us online], knowing they’re speaking to a child that age, [they] then start befriending them and then asking to meet them, asking them to undress... honestly it was so distressing. I just couldn’t stop thinking about it, all over Christmas... seeing some of those images was just [shocking].”
On the paedophile hunter, Nadia said: “It was very scary, I was scared for her... she’s putting herself at great risk. I felt a bit haunted for her because it's like she’s got this unbelievable responsibility she’s got on her shoulders, at any one time she had four phones with her, she was working on the decoys the whole time, the messages were coming in the whole time.”
Reading out a statement from the National Crime Agency Ruth Langsford said: “While we understand the public desire to protect children from online abuse, we do not encourage vigilante action which can compromise ongoing investigations into paedophile networks.”
On what could be done to help, Nadia said: “I feel really strongly that manufacturers should send these devices out with the settings off, so you opt in to having a public account... the paedophile hunter said, ‘you must report anything that happens online to your children’”
The panel were later joined by Rylan Clark-Neal’s husband, Dan Clark-Neal, who has a background with the Metropolitan Police and worked with the Child Protection Agency. Speaking about the dangers online for children, Dan said: “Unfortunately as with all online crime, it is a growing issue, it is really common. Only last week the NSPCC announced that there had been a 250% increase in the number of calls to Childline from children concerned about online abuse in the last three years, that’s a massive increase and it’s a big issue. They’re asking parents to talk to their children about the dangers of using their tablets, their smartphones and their games consoles and it’s great that you are highlighting it today.”
Speaking as a parent, he added: “We need to work out how to navigate social media ourselves as our kids are one step ahead of us... I’ve got a 17 year old son and a few years back... we went through a phase where we took his iPhone and iPod away from him at night as he was staying up so late and we didn’t know what he was doing on there.”
Nadia also met with Carolyn Bunting from Internet Matters to find out how to keep children safe online using security settings.
Click here for the online clip (you'll be directed to ITV.com)
Over the series this year, the Loose Women panellists will go undercover into other issues affecting viewers today.
Loose Women is on weekdays at 12:30 on STV/UTV Ireland/ITV.