Warning over sex pests on internet
THE Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has urged young people and parents to become more vigilant while using social networking sites.
The call comes following the conviction this week of a 22-year-old man who received a suspended sentence for the grooming of a 15-year-old girl he met on Bebo.
The man, who claimed that he believed the girl was of legal age, initially met her online and eventually persuaded her to meet him in person, and they ended up having sex.
National advocacy manager for the ISPCC, Mary Nicholson, says the case brought the issue back to the fore this week.
Ms Nicholson said: "This case is very concerning and really highlights the abuse of the internet.
"Claiming that 'I thought she was of age' doesn't make it all okay, and in this case the girl was in her uniform when they met so it was pretty obvious she was quite young.
"When a girl is as young as 15, even if they consent to having sexual intercourse, they are still not old enough make that decision."
Ms Nicholson feels that more precautions need to be put in place when accessing sites such as Bebo and Facebook, and that young people need to be "more mindful" when giving out personal information.
Ms Frances Fitzgerald, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, agrees that young people should be more vigilant, but also warns of the responsibilities that adults have when it comes to protecting them from the dangers.
"New technologies bring new opportunities, but they also bring new threats.
"Children and young people need to be protected in educating themselves and not sharing too much information, especially with strangers.
"Parents and professionals, such as teachers, have a key role in this."
Ms Nicholson advises parents to ensure they monitor their children's internet activity, and to put some ground rules in place.
"Parents must communicate with their kids and just talk to them about how to use the internet safely to ensure that the site and who they are speaking with is appropriate."
She is also concerned at recent reports that Facebook is considering ways to invite children younger than 13 on to its social network.