Child abuse scandal whistleblower to create advice chatbot

Sara Rowbotham, who exposed the Rochdale child abuse scandal, is working with Reason Digital to develop the advice service for young people.

Joe Lepper | 16th Jan 19
Reason Digital co-founder Matt Haworth and Sara Rowbotham

The former sexual health worker who exposed the Rochdale child abuse scandal is helping to create an advice chatbot to help protect young people.

Sara Rowbotham is working with digital social enterprise Reason Digital to develop the chatbot, which will have extra safety measures to ensure that young people can have a safe place to get advice and communicate with trained advisors.

The chatbot has been created amid concerns around the use of technology by those who commit child abuse, including in online grooming and giving victims mobile phones that can be monitored.

“Technology is a double-edged sword. It now affects every facet of a young person’s life, having grown up in a digital age. As adults we need to better understand how to communicate daily with young users, on a range of platforms – from Snapchat to Instagram,” said Rowbotham.

“The negative side of technology is that some young people are being exploited by perpetrators who find their victims online and then control them by giving them a mobile phone and monitoring their calls and messages. In extreme situations where young people are being sexually exploited, victims have a small window of opportunity to act quickly.

“We must find additional ways to use technology to help young people stay safe and infiltrate and punish abusers. Because of my expertise in child protection I’m working with Reason Digital to create a chatbot with extra safety measures, so young people have a safe place to get advice and communicate with trained advisors.

“I firmly believe survivors’ voices should always be the loudest and I want them to be integral to developing a safe solution, to create technology that’s appropriate for child protection.”

Matt Howarth, Reason Digital co-founder, added: ” I am a big believer in the power of digital and as a teenager I found solace in online communities, but they need to be safe and built in the interest of young users.”

Digital practice conference

Rowbotham is among speakers at a digital practice conference being staged by children’s charity The Children’s Society and Reason Digital in Manchester on 28 January.

Other speakers include Nick Phillips, Mortgage Chief Information Officer at Barclays UK, who developed a Childline app for the NSPCC.