7% of young people reported that they had met someone offline, after meeting them online*

It is a sad reality that children and young people are increasingly becoming exposed to cyber stalking, online grooming and sexting. The advent of social media has meant that they are comfortable making friends online and this can sometimes make them vulnerable.

Their willingness to share personal information with strangers online can lead to risky behaviour. What starts off as a bit of fun for a young person; sending some photos to a stranger, can in fact be the first step by an online predator to ‘groom’ that minor and it can progress to them sending more explicit images of themselves or eventually an actual meeting.

If the friendship escalates to an actual meeting, the sole intent of the online predator is to engage in sexual activity with that young person, with or without their permission.

Top must knows to keep teens safe online
Use privacy and security setting on social network sites
Restrict access to your page to a select group of people that you know personally in your everyday life (not a friend of a friend). Install security like antivirus, antispyware and firewall.
Limit the personal information you post
The more information you post, the easier it may be for a hacker, thief or stalker to manipulate you online.  The personal information and pictures online can potentially be used by individuals and sexual predators to identify, locate, contact, stalk and harass their victims. ‘Tagging’ someone else on Facebook is a good example of this.
Remove unwelcome people and posts
If someone is harassing or threatening you, remove them from your friends list, block them, and tell someone in authority. Remember you have done nothing wrong to attract such attention.
Make it safe
It is important to have a password that includes letters and numbers. Make sure they are not birthdates or pet names. Keep the password to yourself, don’t tell friends and never let anyone login for you.
People aren’t always who they say they are
Only ‘chat’ with people you know in real life, not everyone is who they say they are when you meet them online. Never flirt with a stranger online, or arrange to meet someone online that you have not already met in person.

According to the Australian Institute of Criminology, cyber-stalking can includes:

  • Sending repeated unwanted messages using email and SMS, or posting messages on blogs, profiles on social networking sites/li>
  • Ordering goods and services on behalf of a victim that could result in legal and financial losses to the victim, including to her/his reputation
  • Publicising private information about a victim
  • Spreading false information
  • Gathering information online about a victim
  • Encouraging others to harass a victim; and
  • Unauthorised access to a victim’s computer(s) or Internet accounts (e.g. email and social networking site accounts).

Young people do not seem aware of the ‘social conventions and norms’ associated with behaviour in the real world when it is translated into a virtual online situation. In a survey by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Cyber-Safety:  Are you safe? young people were asked; is repeatedly accessing a stranger’s Facebook page stalking? Only 26.8% believed it was stalking while 43.4% thought it was acceptable behaviour. 

Similarly in the same survey they also seemed unaware of the dangers of sending nude photos of themselves with nearly 22% of female and 17% of male respondents aged 18 years saying that they would send nude or semi-nude photos. Such actions may expose these young adults to significant risk, and can have huge implications later in life.

Dr Judith Slocombe, Chief Executive Officer of the Alannah and Madeline Foundation feels that Sexting reflects the increasing sexualisation of the way young people present themselves and that young people have picked up ‘adult values’ in our society: bullying, violence and sexualised images, (Transcript of Evidence, 11 June 2010, p. CS46.) .

*Australian Institute of Criminology study, 2009.

Writer:  Helen Splarn. Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha.
Source: House of Representatives, Parliamentary Joint Committee on Cyber-Safety . Australian Insitute of Crominology.