With October being cyber security awareness month, a local police officer is in the process of visiting schools across the district to educate students about online safety, cyber-bullying, and avoiding exploitation.
“Our most fundamental responsibility as a society is to protect our children from those would do them harm,” said OPP community safety officer Yenta Davidson.
She attended a conference in March and learned of the agreement between the Canadian Centre for Child Protection (CCCP) and OPP that looks to increase public awareness around child exploitation.
“Since then, I’ve taken it on myself to get educated about resources that the [CCCP] provides because I’m very passionate about children and victims of sexual abuse having come from a crime unit background,” she noted.
Since the start of the school year, Davidson has worked with Fort Frances High School to teach Grade 7 and 8 students about the dangers of being online and how to prevent exploitation.
Part of the education and safety training included teaching students about healthy relationships and boundaries.
“There are no boundaries on the internet so we need to make sure that kids are aware of how to be safe online,” Davidson stressed.
She hopes students gain an awareness of what they’re doing on the internet and the possible implications of their behaviour.
Educating students about how to avoid being exploited is part of the OPP’s 2017-18 action plan.
The OPP currently leads the Ontario provincial strategy to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation on the internet, in collaboration with 26 municipal police forces in Ontario, Davidson noted.
From 2006-16, the provincial strategy has completed 26,086 investigations, laid 13,588 charges against 3,744 people, and identified 1,207 victims.
Through the education campaign, Davidson hopes to educate students about how to protect themselves from exploitation, extortion, cyber-bullying, and “sextortion,” as well as where to go when they need help.
If a teenager gets into a situation where they have shared an intimate image of themselves and it has been posted online, she recommends visiting www.NeedHelpNow.ca to learn what steps they can take to get it taken down.
“Even if they feel that they’re alone in a situation and they can’t deal with it, or they’re too afraid or embarrassed to approach a parent or other adult about the matter, they can still go online and get help for themselves through that process,” Davidson remarked.
“We would just ask anybody who knows about any sexual exploitation of children or sharing of intimate images to contact the OPP.”
To stay safe on the internet, Davidson said always question what you see. People easily can lie about almost anything, including their age, gender, interests, and personality, she warned.
“Use caution when using video chat as people can record and save images,” she added.
Davidson said making a habit of checking privacy settings on social media apps is another important part of keeping safe.
For parents, Davidson suggests being open with their children and letting them know they always can come to them if something is wrong without fear of getting into trouble.
“It’s important for them to know that everyone makes mistakes . . . and it’s important for adults to help kids through a difficult situation when they make those mistakes,” she noted.
Other important steps parents can take include supervising younger children’s online activity.
“Let them know that you’ll be watching what they’re doing online, and just provide them a standard of healthy relationships so they can use it when trying to make sense of messages that they see,” Davidson said.
Moving forward, she intends to visit every school in the district to speak about these issues.
“I’ll take every opportunity that I can to spread the word about online safety because I feel it is very important in our communities,” Davidson stressed.