Policing the internet

Young users can report online suspect behaviour

Pupils in Scotland will be taught how to use an internet-based police service as part of a new campaign against child sex abuse.

A key feature of the ThinkuKnow education programme is that inappropriate contact over the internet can itself be reported online, with a few clicks of a mouse. Children's concerns are investigated and can result in criminal proceedings.

The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre - a UK-wide organisation that focuses on child sex abuse - this week launched the programme in Scotland, where it will target children aged between 11-16.

The launch took place at Woodfarm High, Thornliebank, in the south side of Glasgow, where the online reporting service immediately drew praise from pupils such as 12-year-old Fiona Henry.

She believed that, previously, children might not have wanted to report suspect online behaviour to the police or a teacher for fear of making a fuss over something that might be innocuous. "I did know the internet could be dangerous, but I didn't know what to do," she said.

The programme will be delivered in schools by specially trained police officers and teachers. It will explore online experiences, look at social networking sites (such as Bebo, MySpace and Piczo), gaming sites and more traditional chatrooms, and offer advice to children and their parents.

The centre claimed that one in 12 children had met someone in the flesh whom they initially encountered online. Research also shows that 31 per cent of young people have received unwanted sexual comment online or by text message, but that few parents are aware that their child has received such material.

Jim Gamble, the centre's chief executive, said that, for many parents, what their children were doing online was a "mystery", meaning that it was crucial to improve the skills of those with greater expertise: children themselves.

"The internet will not go away, and we encourage everyone to use it and maximise it for all the legitimate opportunities it creates," he said.

"But where children go, the predator will follow. In the same way as we safeguard our playgrounds, our parks, our streets, we must secure in whatever way possible the public place that is the internet. Empowering children is one critical way of doing that."

* www.thinkuknow.co.uk

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