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dangers lurking in the virtual world

The Monster Online

From the minute a child begins interacting with the world outside his home, he’s taught about the concept of strangers; not to speak to them, go anywhere with them, accept gifts or divulge any of their personal information to them. Children are taught to keep an eye out for predators that might be lurking outside schools, street corners, shopping malls or even right outside their homes. But 21st century living brings an interesting challenge to those old age ideals.

Headlines such as these have become a part of everyday life. Stories of human trafficking, someone being kidnapped by a ‘friend’ they met online, rape and even murder have all given rise to a new threat that everyone has to constantly guard against. 

In 2010 alone, over 1387 cases of abduction or rape were reported in South Africa. All were directly associated with social networking.

*Daniel Matthews met *Alfred Watkins on a local gay dating site. After a few conversations online, the pair met, and embarked on a whirlwind romance, which included hotels, luxurious lunches and late night dinner dates. In the end Matthews was left nursing a broken heart and trying to figure out how he got swindled out of R500 000 in just two months by someone who had such ‘decent’ profile online. “I feel so stupid. I can’t focus on anything. I just keep thinking how I let this happen. It’s so humiliating.”

With so many adults falling prey to online predators one has to wonder how children fare in the virtual world. 
Rapewise CEO John Buswell is someone very familiar with the subject. He says parents are so far behind what their children are doing on the internet. “They’re like dinosaurs, completely clueless when it comes to technology.” 

He and other volunteers spend time working with parents, children and teachers in the hope of making a difference in the lives of the country’s youth.

Online predators are a global phenomenon. It’s a problem that is difficult to unlock because you don’t know who you dealing with, you can’t see the person you are talking to and you don’t know if that person is a criminal. 

For South African authorities, much like the rest of the globe, dealing with criminals without faces is proving to be a taxing series of hits and misses. The birth of the smartphone hasn’t made it any easier. Today the internet is even more accessible and with that comes another dimension in the battle against cyber predators. Children, some as young as 7 years old, have 24 hour access to the internet. That means paedophiles could have 24 hour access to children. They’re able to groom children and find out critical information about where they live and their daily routines? 

Buswell says one of the best ways to guard against this constant threat is for parents to become cyber savvy. “Join Facebook. BBM, tweet and get a WhatsApp account. Most importantly know how to use all those applications and observe your children’s behaviour on the respective platforms.” He also emphasises the need for constant communication, saying it’s a quick way to pick up on any changes. 

Buswell says there are some golden rules which should be kept in mind by everyone when it comes to the net. He speaks of the people, public and private rules. The people rule is in reference to communicating with strangers. “You would never get into a car with a stranger and go to an unknown destination. Why would you do it online?” 

The public rule relates to things that children post. Buswell says it’s important to remember that cyber space is public space so if they want to ask a question or put something out there, they mustn’t do it if they know their teachers, best friends and parents wouldn’t approve. The private rule is in reference to personal details. Never give out any essential information such as passwords, date of birth and addresses.

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