One in 3 teens at risk from online predators

One in three teens are using websites facilitating video chats with strangers, leaving themselves open to being groomed by paedophiles.

Irish anti-bullying service Bully4u said it is extremely worried about the free webcam chat sites.

Its research indicates that some of the people using the sites are middle-aged men engaging in sex acts.

“It is the seedy, dangerous underworld of the internet,” said Bully4u director Jim Harding.

Mr Harding said that, in workshops on safe internet use in primary schools, children have admitted visiting the chat sites.

“If any child indicates to us that they are visiting these sites, we immediately involve the school principals and ask them to contact the parents,” he said.

Mr Harding was speaking at the Cyber-Bullying Forum in Bray, Co Wicklow, yesterday, hosted by Fine Gael MEP Seán Kelly.

He said that children sometimes admitted for the first time following a school workshop that they felt suicidal or had suffered self-harm because of their online torment.

Another concern was that one in four children in Ireland are sexting — sending or receiving inappropriate texts or photographs via social media.

Research by Bully4u has discovered that 90% of 15-year-olds and 80% of 12-year-olds in Ireland are using Snapchat to send photographs to each other. A feature of Snapchat is that a mobile phone can be programmed to delete an image after it is sent.

However, Mr Harding said it was possible for the recipient to take a screenshot of the image before it is deleted, and applications also exist to retrieve deleted photographs.

“Some boys and girls are sending naked photographs to each other,” said Mr Harding. “They are using the photographs to flirt with each other, completely unaware of the danger they are putting themselves in.”

Meanwhile, research presented at the conference by the Anti-Bullying Research Centre at Dublin City University has found that almost 14% of teenage girls have been cyberbullied. Girls are mostly taunted about their physical appearance or about sexual attitudes.

Girls tended not to report cyberbullying and their teachers said they felt out of their depth in dealing with the issue.

Mr Kelly said the behaviour of cyberbullies should be made a criminal offence and that planned legislation in New Zealand would have this effect.

Mr Kelly said he had asked Justice Minister Alan Shatter to examine the New Zealand bill with a view to introducing similar legislation in Ireland.

- is an anonymous facility allowing the public to report suspected illegal content encountered on the internet in a secure and confidential way.

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