Officer in Charge of the Vulnerable Persons Unit, Inspector Mark Clarke - The global information highway (the Internet) easily accessible in homes, workplaces, schools, libraries, electronic devices, allows people to communicate with others around the world with little effort. While this borderless access has many advantages, it also allows those who would sexually exploit children to communicate with like-minded individuals, more importantly locating their next victim.

Since the introduction of social network sites such as FACEBOOK, MYSPACE, TWITTER, PINTEREST, INSTAGRAM, YOUTUBE, the commonness of predatory behavior has increased exponentially. Using the internet not only to transmit and traffic in child abusive images these predators have entered the same social network sites to trawl, identify and groom their next victim. Comprehensively the prevention of the sexual exploitation of our young people is a continuous concern.

Globally, daily reports come to our attention via electronic media. Contextually, locally, it is a weekly news item. Seldom has a week occurred where someone is not placed before the courts or being sentenced for exploiting our youth. Many of these misconducts go unreported until long after the crime(s) has been committed. Reasons vary – in some instances, the victims trust the offender. In other(s), the victim is groomed into believing that he or she has participated in normal behaviour. Often times the victim is contacted via varying social network sites, often times failing to realize the potential danger until it is too late. In most instances, the offender articulates that they are to keep their activities secret.

Social networking sites have become a preferred method of communication among many individuals. It is no longer the schools, homes of friends, sporting events, as the customary gathering place for young people to encounter like-minded people and chat. With mobile internet capable devices such as the I-Phone, Android, Blackberry, interactions with ‘friends’ can now occur in the privacy of a bedroom. These super highways sites are convenient communication avenues for millions of persons every hour of each day.

Recently, public attention has pointedly focused on FACEBOOK being used to solicit and or sexually exploit underage youth, subsequently increasing their vulnerability to sexual harassment and or abuse. Subjective research informs that 38% of kids under the age of 13 have FACEBOOK accounts. With worldwide membership in excess of 1 billion, and increasing, the potential number of kids being victims of predatory behaviours also increases.

Despite elevated concerns about the disclosure of personal information, both young and older users of social network sites continue to disclose personal information. The exposure to potential exploitation of our young persons by online predators increases with the amount of personal information disclosed.

Advances in information and communication technologies have enabled adults with inappropriate sexual interest in children to establish contact, develop relationships, thereby grooming potential victims for abuse.

The Growing up With Media Survey is a national cross-sectional online survey of 1588 youths. Participants were 10 – 15 years of age who have used the Internet at least once in a 6 month period. The main outcome measures were:-

• Unwanted sexual solicitation on the internet, defined as unwanted request to talk about sex, provide personal sexual information, do something sexual,

• Internet harassment (bullying) defined as rude or mean comments, or spreading of rumors.

In Bermuda there is a minimum age (18) requirement in which a person can legally enter into an agreement. In the local online environment this does not appear to be a compulsory requirement.

The social network site FACEBOOK requires everyone to be at least 13 years old before they can create an account. In some jurisdictions, this age limit may be higher. TWITTER has no minimum age requirements. Parents should know the following:-

• Most Social Network Sites have reporting links.

• Creating a FACEBOOK account with false info is a violation of Facebook Terms.

• This includes accounts registered on behalf of someone under 13.

• If your underage child creates a Facebook account you should delete this account.

• If you’d like to report an account belonging to someone under 13 Facebook provides the forms.

The Criminal Code Amendment Act 2007 has made offences for behaviours such as luring, showing, making, distributing child abusive material or child pornography Indictable. The penalty can be a maximum of 10 years and 5 years on Summary conviction. This does not include the penalties for any other offences identified i.e. Serious Sexual Assault, Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, Intruding on the Privacy of a Female etc. The penalty for which can result in a sentence up to 25 years.

Parents can adopt the following minimum safeguards to further protect their children:-

Educate themselves with the technology utilized by their children.

Educate their children in regards to safe internet usage.

Demand all passwords for all electronic devices.

Demand complete access to all internet and or communication devices.

Install electronic safeguards that protect your family.

Establish family ground rules to accessing the internet and all social networking sites.

Review the terms of reference of all social media websites and report any suspected abuse.

Review and digest the locally administered website www.cybertips.bm.