With the advent of social media in this internet age have come newer and more devious ways to entrap youth. Everton have discovered that paedophiles and other sexual predators are targeting Premier League youth players using Snapchat and posing as football agents and scouts.
The club has now stepped up to the challenge to protect the youngsters affiliated with the club. Adam Green, head of safeguarding at Everton, said that last season youth players had told the club about multiple approaches through Snapchat by men claiming to be scouts and agents, wanting to represent the players.
The club was running a project with the Internet Watch Foundation, which works to minimise the availability of sexual abuse content online, when the allegations came to light. Players were being taught about the dangers they face online and how to act appropriately. Two younger boys first raised concerns, which were then echoed by 17 and 18-year-olds.
The allegations came to light last season when the Toffees were running a program along with the Internet Watch Foundation to educate the youngsters about the dangers. The project hopes to teach young players how to conduct themselves appropriately on the internet, and how to keep themselves safe. Two younger boys first mentioned their concerns, with more 17 and 18-year-olds then saying they had been approached as well.
Speaking to the Guardian, Green went on to say -
“On Snapchat it just says a name like Ben at the top and [the message says]: ‘I’m from an agency representing players from Manchester and London, and we have offices in both places and we’ve been watching you with interest, following you, and we’re interested in signing you for this agency. Don’t tell your dad. Don’t tell your club’.”
He said criminal gangs were also actively on the messaging apps attempting to blackmail the youngsters after duping them into sending revealing pictures -
“There have been cases coming to court of academy footballers from all different clubs [being] told that they had to pay £50,000 if they don’t want their penis pictures sent all over the internet.”
Green added there has been a huge increase in the numbers of reports in recent years. His safeguarding team received just three reports in 2011, but that escalated to 75 in 2015 and 126 last year.
"The threat now is that paedophiles have migrated...to Instagram and Snapchat. Whatever the next craze is, the paedophiles will be on there as soon as the children are.”
In addition to the educational aspect, Green also commented on the changing attitudes towards consent.
“I think one of the reasons why it changed behaviours was that those who saw girls who were drunk as fair game were really challenged by their peers. [They were asked,] ‘So if you were blind drunk and a girl – or a boy – touched you in a way that you’re describing, would you see yourself as fair game?’”
A downside to Everton’s renewed commitment to the youth sides has been the youngsters now have higher profiles than before.
“For the elite players there’s an additional element … everyone knows they’re the Everton player and girls will target them more so – and predatory paedophiles and predatory people who want to make a profit out of it with sextortion.
“If one of our young men goes on a dating site or even to a nightclub, word gets around pretty quickly that they’re a footballer and it’s much more tempting to start some kind of grooming relationship or befriend them, or try to have sex with them and ultimately have their baby. ”
Everton have long been known as the People’s Club, and continued actions such as this to protect the future generations of Evertonians are just another example of the club’s community focus.