Updated: 30/12/16 : 05:19:54
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Parents urged to adapt to fight online predators

Online predators are pushing children to post compromising pictures and to meet up within minutes of making contact, a top garda has revealed.

Detective Superintendent Declan Daly heads up the recently formed Garda National Protective Services Bureau (GNPSB) and in an exclusive interview with Independent.ie he revealed how his officers have witnessed an increase in children being targeted for naked pictures online.

D-Supt Daly called on parents not to be naive and to educate both themselves and their children about the dangers online.

“The internet has many fantastic uses but one of the downsides is that at any given time there are perpetrators who are looking to target our children sexually and exploit our children.

He continued: “A child who's innocently online may be unaware that they are being targeted by an online predator."

The GNPSB was set up in 2015. Previously it operated at the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Investigation Unit (DVSAIU) in the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation (NBCI).

However garda chiefs felt it was important to create an independent unit that dealt specifically with crimes of a sexual nature.

The sensitive nature of the work carried out by the skilled detectives means that many details of the crimes they work on cannot be published.

However D-Supt Daly explained to Independent.ie that he wants to make parents and children aware of the serious dangers that exist.

The unit is in constant contact with policing bodies across the globe including the FBI in the US, Interpol and Europol.

Police and agents alert gardaí to the presence of particular predators and photographs online.

The GNPSB then process the information and disseminate it to districts across the country where local garda units deal with perpetrators and victims.

D-Supt Daly explained that they have seen a “worrying increase” in self-taken child images ending up in the hands of predators.

“This is where a child takes an image of themselves, either partially clothed or fully unclothed and posts that  image online,”he explained.

“The child then either knowingly or unknowingly maybe gives that image to somebody. Maybe emails that image to another child, or what they believe is another child, but ultimately that image makes its way onto the internet by a number of means. Obviously you have the difficulties there.”

A recent study revealed that one in four children were in contact with a stranger online.

Asked how children fall for this plot D-Supt Daly explained that criminals often operate a form of 'catfishing' where they pretend to be someone they are not.

“At any one time there are perpetrators pretending to be young children and then trying to build up credibility with a child.

“For example, an adult male posing as a teenage girl to try and get pictures of young boys. The boy believes that he's interacting with a young girl and innocently sends the image, believing that he is sending it to a young girl. He may or may not find out that it is an adult that he is interacting with.”

Although he could not provide specific numbers for the amount of these cases that have happened D-Supt Daly explained that at any one time his unit would be carrying out several investigations.

He explained that conversations between predators and victims develop worryingly fast.

“What we find is that when we look at the interacting that would happen between a suspect and a victim. It progresses into a request for images, or to meet, very quickly."

Asked how quickly, the garda chief responded: “Within four or five questions. Obviously I can't put a figure on every case but what we have seen is a suspect will be online and he will be eager to find out somebody who is amenable to his advances or his interaction.

“They seem to get down to the point very quickly. They ask name, age, sex, location and then it's into that sexualised chat very quickly.”

Gardaí use a number of tools to follow the footprint that leads to the criminals but D-Supt Daly said parents need to take control of the situation before it gets to that point.

He urged mothers and fathers to educate themselves and to adapt real-world thinking to the online sphere.

“If a parent is in the house and they looked out the window and they saw their child speaking with a stranger, they would react immediately because they would be horrified to think: 'Who is my child talking to? What is my child talking to this person about? What danger does this person pose?' So when the child comes in we would ask our child a number of questions about this interaction.

“However on the internet we give our children access. And how many strangers do our children speak to without any critique or questions posed?”

He added that communication between parent and child is crucial so that the child is not “overly criticised” for communicating with a stranger.

“What you don't want is a situation where a child is simply not going to interact with the parent and not going to come forward and tell their story," he said.

“If a child is a victim of sexplay, for example, you want that communication piece that the child is confident and able to go to parents and say 'somebody is trying to target me online and I'm worried about it'. You don't want the child holding that in, you want them to tell you.”