Cyberspace paedophilia and other related incidents
There has been a sizeable amount of news recently on the subject of grooming and such like. A recent statistic suggests that somewhere around half of all children online have experienced an unwanted ‘incident,’ whether grooming or bullying or just general harassment. An additional statistic suggests that 64% of it occurs via chat rooms.
When I say “sizeable amount” I am explicitly ignoring that sort of sensationalist gossip-mongering engaged in by the tabloid press and related outlets.
Perhaps it is because I’m not a parent, but more and more the charities are beginning to irk me with their constant output on the subject. It may appear that I’m arguing against myself by first demonstrating just how prevalent the problem may be – but hear me out.
What is irritating me is that the charity campaigns seem to be lapsing from the promotion of responsible internet use into paranoia around who young people talk to online. I view that as a harmful development.
Of course, when one actually reads the material passing between the groomers and the groomed – available in some of the links above – one cannot help but be disgusted and angry that such people are allowed near children. It is made worse by the fact that the children who seem the easiest prey are the ones with difficult home lives.
Yet it seems ill-fitting to cast out such rich possibilities as those carried by the internet in a bid for the ever elusive security each of us seek for ourselves and our families.
From the point of view of a young person, it would have been irreparably restrictive for me to have my parents linger over my shoulder. Those parts of sex education which a Catholic grammar school left out were largely acquired by reading the internet. Similarly for meeting Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and for that matter Americans and other people with different perspectives, the internet is invaluable.
What most of the charities suggest doesn’t of itself restrict investigative activity, but suggestions like having the family PC in a communal room and so on brings parents into the equation. Parents have strong political, religious, moral and other views – and its not rare for parents to wish that their children should be of the same mind.
Even more common is the reaction that parents have to kids spending a couple of hours online on net games which the parent doesn’t see the point of. I’ve been in that situation, and yet the game in question taught me a lot about human behaviour not to mention different political cultures and mindsets. It also taught me a lot about myself.
It’s all very well to say that young people should be out and about and getting their experience in a real-life setting rather than through a computer screen – something that I hear pundits repeat as thought it were a talisman. Yet isn’t the behaviour of our children just mirroring the fractured social fabric of society, where people are of so little hope that they would rather stay indoors and watch TV than actually be making a difference?
Moreover, what is to stop young people acquiring their experiences in both ways?
If we take under consideration that 64% of these incidents occur in chat rooms, we might well question why chat rooms should be allowed to persist. Years ago MSN turned their chat rooms into a pay-per-chat service on the pretext that it would stop paedophiles from soliciting young people. Of course it didn’t do that, since the demand for chat rooms is a constant and all concerned parties simply shifted their custom to other free-use chat sites.
The underlying lesson, I think, is that these national groups are much too often giving ammunition to the less salubrious and more agenda-ridden agents within our society. Internet security should be taught in school, probably in ICT classes – which are being brought to an ever younger audience thankfully. It’s something that will never be full proof – but that is no excuse for applying limitations to internet usage.