Why can’t we regulate internet and protect children like Ana?

My daughter has been away for the last three weeks.

She’s coming home on Saturday and I can’t wait.

I have all the usual issues mothers tend to have with their teenage daughters, but now she’s away I find myself longing to see her across the room from me in her comfy socks with a big cup of tea in her hand.

She’s a lovely young woman but she’s still my little girl. Just like Ana Kriegel, who had the body of a gorgeous woman and the heart of a child. There’s no contradiction.

Therein lies the unique beauty of our precious teenage girls.

Childhood and maturity shouldn’t be seen in them to be struggling for ascendancy.

They are both children and women at the same time.

We must respect their womanhood while we fight to protect their childhood.

That’s what Geraldine and Patric Kriegel were doing when their beautiful little girl was snatched from their protection, assaulted and murdered.

I’ve followed every moment of the case, repelled and compelled at the same time.

Of course Patric must be suffering just as much as Geraldine and he was the stay-at-home parent but as a mother I identify with Geraldine.

As a mother, I can’t bear it that Ana rang her mum at 4.02pm and 4.03pm on the day she died but Geraldine couldn’t answer because she was in a meeting.

That’s a routine thing which could happen to any of us.

Ana rang and texted her mum all the time but it’s not physically possible for any of us to take our kids’ calls all the time.

Ana might not even have mentioned that she was going out with Boy B or Boy A if her mum had taken the call.

That’s something Geraldine will never know, however, and she must feel the pain mothers feel when they can’t achieve the impossible and be 100% available 24 hours a day.

I identify with her immediate concern, when she returned home at 5.20 pm, that her daughter had gone out with someone she didn’t know.

I am far more “paranoid”, to use Geraldine’s word, than my husband.

Why can’t we regulate internet and protect children like Ana?

Paranoia is rarely helpful to a mother or her child.

The chance of there being something seriously wrong with your child when he or she is out of touch for a few hours is miniscule. In Ireland just over one-in-100,000 people is murdered.

Geraldine must have been rehearsing those facts in her mind as she began to search frantically for her beloved daughter.

I’ve been there so often.

Cycling frantically up and down the Dodder looking for a floating body. Lurking in my van at the Luas stop. Driving around the area in my pyjamas at 1 am.

It always comes out right, doesn’t it?

There they are, a bit shame-faced, an excuse is proffered featuring no phone credit or a puncture, and when you shut your bedroom door your stern face crumbles into one of gratitude.

Except on May 14, 2018, Geraldine had no such reprieve. Nor on May 15 or 16.

Then the horror on May 17, of being called to a morgue to identify the precious girl who was their “dream come true”, as they put it.

Words fail me.

And while it is important to repeat that appalling assaults and murders are extremely rare, we have to face the truth: Young girls grow up in consistent danger, not of murder, but of harrassment, outrage, unwanted sexual contact.

It’s taken me a long time to admit to myself that much of my morbid fascination with the Kriegel case is because as a teenager I feared I would come to an end like Ana’s.

I wasn’t tall or striking like her and yet from the age of about 15 I was aware of the world as a place where the threat of assault was constant.

When I had just turned 16 and went to Switzerland to work and learn French during the summer, a man tried to persuade me to get into his car at the airport, another tried to bundle me into his car, and another climbed into my bed in the house in which I was staying.

I could go on and on recounting such experiences until I was over 18 and perhaps looked tougher.

They all involved older men, of course, not young teens as in Ana’s case, which is horribly unusual in so many ways.

I suffered no serious assault.

The threat was in the back of my mind, however, just as it is surely there for most young women at exactly the moment when they want independence.

There is no easy way of tackling this threat.

Raising the awareness of society at large is important, as is trying to build our girls’ self-confidence and ability to defend themselves as best we can.

Why can’t we regulate internet and protect children like Ana?

In Ana’s case, red flags were waving wildly as she became, to use Boy B’s expression, “outcasted” at school.

How was this allowed to happen?

Could we not incorporate into the operation of every secondary school the practice of the Jewish-ethos Stratford College in Dublin which maps the relationships of the kids on an ongoing basis, instead of waiting for problems to develop?

Geraldine Kriegel was right on top of Ana’s internet use and checked her devices daily, more than I have ever done.

But how is it possible that anyone can post “Go Die” on anyone’s page with impunity?

How can 12,000 images, most of them pornographic and many involving violence, be downloaded onto the phone of a 13-year-old, as they were on Boy A’s, evidence not admitted in court because Justice McDermott felt it was “highly prejudicial” to the accused?

No one can say with any certainty that Ana would not have been murdered before the internet but A and B are the youngest people ever to be convicted of murder in this State, though in many ways childhood is now longer than it ever was.

We have to ask why the society in which the internet was born can plan a mission to Mars yet can’t provide us with the tools to regulate internet platforms to protect kids like Ana and Boy A, whose plan to “Do well in life” has now been aborted for a long time?

And if US companies won’t act, why can’t Ireland act on its own?

As a society, we welcomed a little girl from Siberia who needed protection.

We failed to protect her.

Facing that fact may be the best way we can echo the words of Geraldine Kriegel:

She will stay in our hearts, forever loved and forever cherished. We love you, Ana.

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