Online harassment of children and young adults more widespread than believed
Survey suggests a third of under 16-year-olds have received disturbing messages from clearly older individuals
The harassment of children over the Internet is a larger and more serious problem than hate speech and online frauds. This is the considered opinion of Sergeant Marko Forss from the Helsinki Virtual Local Police Group*.
Last year fewer than 200 cases of Internet-related exploitation or attempted exploitation of children came to light.
A survey published on Tuesday suggests that a number that is several times larger will remain undisclosed: of the under 16-year-old respondents, one in three - in other words 750 of them - said that they had been sent messages, images, or video clips with sexual connotations by individuals clearly older than themselves.
“Writing a message with sexual connotations alone fulfils the criteria of crime. Based on the survey, thousands of such crimes are committed each year”, Forss argues.
Helsinki’s Taivallahti School ninth-graders Ella Herrala, 15, Siiri Koivu, 14, and Susanna Laakkonen, 15, are not surprised by the results.
Every one of the girls has received harassment messages, usually from 20 to 30-year-old men, who compliment their looks and request contact details.
“Mostly we just laugh about them, but sometimes they may cause distress”, Koivu says.
The messages become alarming especially when the sender just continues the pestering behaviour.
According to the girls, the easiest way to resolve the situation is to not answer the queries in the first place and not accept the intruder for example as a Facebook friend.
“It is a good idea not to post any revealing images of oneself online”, Herrala says.
The liability, however, always lies with the adult, regardless of how the child or the youth behaves online, Forss points out.
According to Forss, many people are ashamed of having engaged in a chat that went too far.
According to the survey, nearly half of the under 16-year-olds who have experienced online harassment have never talked about it to anyone.
“It is important that a child can talk about the issue to his or her parents without having to fear being made feel guilty or worry about being banned from using the Internet”, says Safer Internet Manager Mari Laiho from Save the Children Finland.
Laiho is particularly concerned about the survey results, according to which one in five of the under 16-year-olds has been in a one- or two-way webcam connection with the exploiter.
“If the images are saved, the situation at its worst can turn into a nightmare, as the child loses the control of his or her images”, Laiho says.
*A "net police" service set up initially in 2008 under the Helsinki Police Department, and active on the IRC-Galleria site, Facebook, and Messenger among others. Serves in effect as the "copper on the beat" within the Net community. The intention is to lower the threshold for getting in touch with the police and also to intervene directly on criminal behaviour taking place online. A description in English of the workings of the Virtual local Police Group from 2009 can be found at the link below.
Previously in HS International Edition:
European study illuminates dangers of internet for children (22.10.2010)
Animal rights activists´ Facebook pages contain threats against animal cruelty suspects (4.1.2011)
Man fined for posting revealing photos on online message board (24.3.2011)
Description of the Virtual Local Police Group from 2009
Nettipoliisi (in Finnish)