Kids encouraged to dob-in internet 'creepers' online

AT least one online sex predator is targeting children in Queensland every week.

But now in an Australian-first, young people can report cyber predators anonymously from the comfort of their computer.

The service is a joint project between child protection advocates Bravehearts and the Queensland Police Service called Join the Dots and was developed in consultation with Task Force Argos, the QPS specialist online child exploitation team. 

In the five weeks leading up to Christmas, eight people were caught attempting to groom children online for sex.

Research shows that advances in online technologies continue to provide increased opportunities for child sex offenders, including for grooming victims, accessing child exploitation material and networking.

Bravehearts Founder and CEO Hetty Johnston said Join the Dots was designed to provide a simple and anonymous avenue for young people to share what they are seeing and experiencing online, with the information leading to the prosecution of offenders. 

"Even the tiniest piece of information can assist and often it's part of a bigger picture that can help to protect other younger kids," she said.  

"The information provided is sent direct to Bravehearts and we then share it with the police. We understand that not everyone feels comfortable talking to authorities first up so they can remain anonymous if they want to."

Mrs Johnston said there's a number of ways in which offenders exploit children on-line. It can be as simple as misusing information that a child or young person gives them and they may send explicit or abusive messages or post photos of the child or young person on other websites. 

"People should be able to use the internet without having to worry about the 'creepers' who troll through their space," she said.

"By taking a lead on this they become the guardians of their domain.

"Join the Dots is a mechanism that empowers young people by giving them the confidence and tools to protect their cyber space from predators while creating a safer online environment for their peers and the next generation." 

Bravehearts founder Hetty Johnston
Bravehearts founder Hetty Johnston David Stuart

BY THE NUMBERS

Statistics on the number of children receiving on-line solicitations are alarming.

In the US, the Department of Justice reported that one in five children who use the internet had been approached by a sex offender.

Meanwhile, the UK Online Protection Centre reportedly receives 400 phone calls a month from young people who have been approached by a sex offender on the internet.

While more research needs to be done in Australia, the Commonwealth DPP reported 376 child exploitation charges under the Criminal Code in 2012-13.



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