Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Sex on the Net.



Download WordDownload Word

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

This transcript has been prepared by a source external to the Parliamentary Library.

 

It may not have been checked against the broadcast or in an y other way. Freedom from error, omissions or misunderstandings cannot be guaranteed.

 

For the purposes of quoting verbatim from a transcript, it is advisable to verify the transcript against the broadcast.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Background Briefing

 

Sunday 22 July 2007

Sex on the Net

 

Wendy Carlisle: Hello, I'm Wendy Carlisle and welcome to Background Briefing on ABC Radio National.

We're off to Cyberia, today, that's Cyberia with a capital-C, otherwise known as Cyberspace, the Internet and the web, to explore why we've hit the panic button about teens on the net.

Parents are starting to think there's a paedophile behind every keystroke and a porn pop-up in every download.

Father: It's scary that just from what you hear in the media, it's scary at the level, and the amount. Yes. No. It's, yes it's scary.

Wendy Carlisle: The media is full of reports about porn ring busts and high profile offenders, prosecutors, police, priests and teachers, it seems that there's no-one who may not be a paedophile. There was even the recent story of the undercover journalist who posed as a 14-year-old schoolgirl in a chat room to show just how quickly paedophiles could move on their unsuspecting prey.

A Sydney Morning Herald journalist had a front-page splash with the story 'How I Trapped Paedophiles'. He'd created a fake profile of a 14-year-old girl, posted a pretty picture, a couple of phone numbers and under the alias Yvette 14, sat back in a teen chat room and waited.

He didn't have to wait long. Within minutes of going online, Dr Sex had popped up to chat with Yvette.

Background Briefing has re-enacted that chat room conversation.

Dr Sex: Do you want sex?

Yvette: Yes, why?

Dr Sex: Wow, you're so cute, really you're great, I like this look.

Yvette: Thanks

Dr Sex: You know if that really is you, I'll do all you want, I'll be yours, just trust me.

Yvette: OK.

Dr Sex: Are you horny?

Yvette: Can't sleep.

Dr Sex: Why, babe?

Yvette: Got a cold.

Dr Sex: Do you want someone to make you hot and care about you?

Wendy Carlisle: Child sex abuse is an old crime, and there's no doubt that the Internet has given paedophiles incredible new opportunities to target and groom vulnerable kids. On Background Briefing today we'll explore the latest research on what makes some teens vulnerable to the grooming process, and whether the Internet safety campaigns we're running are hitting the mark.

Dr Sex: I'm here, babe, I'll make you hot and do all you want, sweetie.

Yvette: Thanks.

Dr Sex: Can I call you?

Yvette: No, it will wake people.

Dr Sex: Mmmm. Do you want to be hot? Are you there babe?

Yvette: Sure.

Dr Sex: Are you horny?

Wendy Carlisle: Nobody knows for sure just how many paedophiles are cruising and abusing kids on the net, but it's important to remember that the overwhelming majority of child sexual abuse in the real world, is within the family, with fathers, uncles, brothers, family members, and other authority figures.

What's going on in cyberspace is still unclear, but we do know that police stings using Federal anti-grooming laws have convicted just 30 offenders in the last two years; another 50 are before the courts.

The Federal government has been funding the group NetAlert to the tune of $10-million to run community and schools education programs about cyber safety. But they're ad hoc and have never been evaluated to see whether they actually work.

NetAlert has also placed ads like these on TV and radio.

Young Girl: Making friends over the Internet is really rewarding. I can chat online with a whole bunch of cool kids without them ever having to see what I look like. Which is just as -

Man: - well really, seeing as I'm not really a 13 year old girl at all.

Announcer: It's almost impossible to recognise a paedophile in an Internet chat room. Do you know who your child is talking to? For free advice, information and resources to protect your child online, visit NetAlert.net.au or call 1800 880 176. NetAlert, proudly supported by the Australian government.

Wendy Carlisle: Stranger danger is one of the main themes. The NetAlert mood is fear and anxiety. Cyberspace is a dangerous place. In some of their publicity they claim that 50% of children have been approached by what they call a 'stranger' to meet in real life, and that of those who agree to meet, only 10% would ask their parents.

It sounds spooky, but in Cyberspace, kids often have three or 400 friends. Strangers can be bands, friends of friends, and of course they can also be people with criminal intent, trawling the Internet for vulnerable kids.

Background Briefing couldn't find any evidence in the research that NetAlert provided to support the claim that 50% of kids have been approach by strangers online, to meet in real life. We wanted to talk to NetAlert about their research but despite many requests, they failed to provide a speaker.

The Federal government is poised in the next month or so, to launch its $120-million campaign called 'Making Australian Families Safer Online'. It will involve the rollout of 2-1/2-million computer filters into family homes, and the government has set aside a whopping $18-million to spend on TV, radio, and print advertising. Every household will get a glossy, 12-page booklet explaining the filters, policing strategies and information about NetAlert.

This is all well and good, but it may not address the complexities of the issue.

Meantime, today's teens and tweens, are the most switched-on technological generation in history. They have known nothing but the Internet. I t has transformed their ideas about friendship and what it means to stay connected in a way that no-one could have predicted.

At Melbourne's Thornbury High School, the students have been making regular programs for Channel 31, a public community television station. One recent show was all about the place they call Cyberia, that's Cyberia with a C.

Girl: Hi, welcome to Cyberia.

Boy: A virtual land where you can expect the unexpected.

Girl: Who said that?

Boy: I don't know.

Wendy Carlisle: And they joked about how compulsive, addictive, it's all become.

Boy 1: Hey, how cool's this? I've been in my room for three days now without going to the toilet.

Boy 2: Yes? Well I've been in my room for seven days. I haven't left but I've actually gone to the toilet.

Boy 1: Oh yes? Well once I spent a whole month in my room on the computer. So beat that.

Boy 2: Once I spent a whole year on the computer and I didn't even leave my desk. Now.

Boy 1: Yes, that's pretty cool.

Boy 2: I bet I have more friends on MySpace than you do.

Boy 1: Oh yes? I have 300.

Boy 2: I have 20,000. I've been talking to this 16-year-old girl from Canada.

Boy 1: Oh yes, cool, what's her name?

Boy 2: I don't know, she hasn't told me much about her, but she's hot and she wants me to come and meet her. Awesome.

Wendy Carlisle: When Background Briefing began researching this story, we contacted teens on social networking sites, places like MySpace. I even created an online identity, called Detective Wendy, and trawled around trying to find out whether teens had been approached by creeps online. The half dozen that got back to me, said No. A few even added me to their friends list, and even though they never verified who I was, in no time I was getting bulletins about where they were heading for pizza.

In MySpace, it's pretty easy to find out what the Internet generation is up to, and what their favourite music is.

SONG

Wendy Carlisle: One of my new friends had posted a video of herself and her schoolfriends goofing off in the classroom. It was eerie viewing: young girls preening, pouting and prancing in a private performance made public.

GIRLS GOOFING

Wendy Carlisle: Social networking sites like MySpace, Facebook and Bebo have come out of nowhere. Eighteen months ago they barely existed, but now they're an incredible phenomenon. The majority of teenage girls now have online profiles, and there are even sites for kids as young as six. Club Penguin is one.

For child psychologists like Andrew Fuller we're witnessing a revolution in the way that young people define friendship, and while older generations might have perceived these so-called new friends as strangers, no so for the Internet generation.

Andrew Fuller: Well what I'm seeing of course is an amazing shift in the way young people are redefining friendship, and they're using the Internet really as an incredible way of connecting with all sorts of young people. As one of my young clients yesterday said to me, 'Basically the Internet and chat rooms isn't an addition to my social network, it is my social network, and it's a way of being online with 400 of my closest friends.'

Wendy Carlisle: It doesn't sound terribly intimate for those of us who aren't in that generation.

Andrew Fuller: Well it's a different form of friendship, isn't it? Basically it's an incredibly well redefined concept of really what a friendship is. So a friend is basically defined as somebody who's online and accessible to you.

Wendy Carlisle: And staying connected with new friends is time consuming.

Andrew Fuller: Oh yes, the amount of sleep deprivation is remarkable, among particularly girls, about 40% of female secondary school students are chronically sleep-deprived, and it's primarily because of being online.

Wendy Carlisle: You're kidding me.

Andrew Fuller: No, no, that's what our surveys indicate. So they are cranky; they're difficult, they're distracted, and they're not going to learn as well.

Boy: MySpace is the best thing that ever happened to us kids. You can talk to anyone you want, you know, you can meet friends from all over the world.

Wendy Carlisle: MySpace is the biggest of the social networking sites, with 3-million users in Australia, 170-million worldwide.

MySpace in Australia is calling for a national education campaign on Internet safety, something that educates not just kids, but parents about social networking. MySpace can see the issues and dangers, and they're ahead of government on this. They also want to protect their customer base, and bottom line.

Director of Internet Safety at MySpace, Rod Nockles.

Rod Nockles: Certainly that age group that is now around the 15, 16, is an age group which is the genuine Internet generation. I mean they just have never known a world without cyberspace, and they engage in the technology in the a fundamentally different way than, say you or I might. I mean previous generations have used the Internet in a sense as a productivity tool, or some type of an enhancer in their workplace. I mean they might go on and conduct research; they might use it for email, or even instant messaging etc., but it tends to be a productivity tool. With the cyber generation, they are engaging it in a very different way. Their grasp of the technology is intuitive, and they are using it for very different things. They are social networking on the Internet in a way that perhaps previous generations may have met at the local park, or they may have met at the local coffee shop, or gone and got a milkshake at the local café, and had a bit of a yarn about the world and what's happening and what's important to them. That's now all occurring online, and it's called social networking. And so we need to understand that that's happening; I think it would be futile to try and prevent that from happening. What we need to do is understand that it's happening, and develop some of the safety features and some of the education campaigns that I think will fundamentally be important in making younger people safe online.

Wendy Carlisle: The arrival of the Internet hasn't changed the need for parents to talk to their kids about sex.

Girl: Dad, what's nudity mean?

Dad: Ah, it means not wearing clothes, Georgie.

Girl: Dad, what's erotic mean?

Dad: Eh? Ah, you'd better ask your Mum that one.

Girl: Dad, what's porno?

Announcer: Not everything you find on the Internet is suitable for kids. NetAlert can show you how to make the Internet safer for your child. Call our free Helpline today, 1800 880 176 or log on to NetAlert.net.au. NetAlert, proudly supported by the Australian government.

Wendy Carlisle: There's no doubt that the Internet is full of porn, but the research on its impact on teens and children is not all doom and gloom. One of America's leading researchers on this is Dr David Finkelhor. We'll hear more from him later, but here he is speaking at a recent US Congressional hearing.

David Finkelhor: I guess one point that I'd like to make that isn't often recognised, it hasn't been really well publicised. There's a lot of concern about the impact of pornography and other dangers online and its ability to corrupt young people today, and create a generation that is kind of irretrievably sexualised.

But the data suggest that since about 1995, around the time that the Internet really began to take hold, rates of sexual assault and sexual abuse have actually been declining. They're down over 50% since 1992. That rates of teen pregnancy are down very substantially, I think almost about a third since the mid-1990s. And sexual intercourse at an early age has actually been declining as well.

I think there are things that we need to be concerned about, but there isn't any evidence from some of the macro indicators that we have that we have somehow seen a terrible corruption of a generation of youth.

Wendy Carlisle: But for the Internet generation, the kids themselves, they're not just worried about porn and paedophiles, they're probably more worried about other aspects of Internet safety, the cyber-magnified horrors of the playground, like bullying.

Girl: And my friend would call me up and they would start shaking, like I can hear them crying and stuff, and they're just really afraid, and I go and tell them, like, 'Oh, you know, go and tell your parents this', and they're like 'Oh, what are they going to do? My parents can't do anything', and that's true, like parents usually can't really do anything, this is our problem, we have to try and solve it ourselves. But we can't solve it if there's no-one there for us helping us.

Wendy Carlisle: But it's not NetAlert that kids are turning to for help. In its three years of operation only 27,000 calls have been made to its helpline, from parents, teachers and kids, about things from bullying to stranger-danger, and hacking.

One teen who did give NetAlert's 1800 number a try is 14-year-old Melbourne schoolboy, Tom Wood.

Tom Wood: I rang them not long ago with some questions about the Internet, a question on someone hacking into a friend's MySpace at school, which is a site where everyone has a kind of a profile, and at that time they couldn't help immediately because the person to deal with technical problems of that nature was not there at that time. So I finally got assistance the week after, on Tuesday, when I rang on Friday, which was good assistance, and it was fine for me, but it's just there are probably a lot of cases out there where kids need a lot more timely help I think.

Wendy Carlisle: The other big problem with the NetAlert hotline is that kids don't want their parents to overhear them talking on the phone about their online problems, for fear they'll react badly and take the computer away.

Tom Wood: Well if the parents heard, they would ask what the problem was, and they would know there was something wrong and probably find out and take the software away, computers away from them, and that's the last thing the kids want.

Wendy Carlisle: Tom thinks kids should engage in a kind of street-smart identity deception when they're online, not just to foil the paedophiles, but also the spammers, phishers and hackers.

Tom Wood: Most kids don't realise how simple it is to track them down with Google by just getting a little bit of their information, such as their email address; they can build complete profiles on people and find little bits of information they've left on different websites, so it's a bit like a net footprint. And there's a thing that kids need to know how to use: aliases, which are fake web names they should use when they join websites so they can discuss things with better anonymity.

Wendy Carlisle: When Background Briefing first made contact with Tom, he even did a profile of me. It was pretty comprehensive and a little shocking. I felt, well, spied upon. He even included a photo I thought I'd erased permanently from cyberspace.

Tom Wood: That's another reason why we need education to teach kids how easily they can be tracked down etc. and I think in education that's offered, I think they should actually show them in the class that they're teaching, get someone's email address and show them while they're there, how much they can find about them, and I think it'll really shock them and get them motivated to learn how to stop it.

Wendy Carlisle: Those students at Thornbury High were equally candid about how they hack into email accounts.

Girl: My friends on regular occasions actually hack into other people's email accounts. It could be girls that they hate, or just anyone for the fun of it. It's really quite easy. What you do is, how they do this, they type in their friend's email address and then they go to 'forgot password', so they have to make a new password, and they do this by guessing a secret question which sometimes, you know, you can't guess, but most of the time it's something easy like favourite food, which is pretty much guaranteed to be either like pizza or chocolate and once you do this you are free to change their password, and once you've done that, you can go into their email address and you can pretty much do emails, msn messages, or you can talk to people; people don't know that it's been hacked into, and then you can change all their settings.

Wendy Carlisle: NetAlert produced a DVD called Wise up to it , and it was distributed to all schools, and it talked about the online experiences of four teens. One is about a boy who finds himself spending a lot of time playing games online; he meets another boy and they get chatting, and he thinks they are the same age.

Boy: He started to ask me some really personal things, and to be honest I didn't think it was that strange because we'd become such good mates. I guess it just felt nice having someone who knew how I was feeling. When the school holidays started, he suggested we should finally meet. He asked his mum if I could stay over, and she said it was fine, and that she would buy the plane ticket. His parents seemed so cool compared to mine. I packed an overnight bag and went to the airport without telling my parents. When I got off the plane at the other end, he texted me and said we should meet at this hotel instead. I didn't even stop to think it was weird, but I should have. Luckily I never made it to the hotel because I was intercepted by the police. My parents had worked out what had happened and called them straight away. It turned out my friend, who I thought was the same age as me, was actually a 40-year-old man.

Wendy Carlisle: Another story explored a similar stranger danger theme. In this scenario, a teenage girl meets a boy of her age in a chat room. They get on, have the same interests and agree to meet up at the Big Day Out. And then things turn ugly.

Girl: Anyway, the next time we were chatting he started asking me really personal and gross questions. I realised he was a bit of a freak so I ended the conversation straight away, plus I blocked him from sending me messages. But then he started harassing me, and sending me disgusting emails attaching explicit photos of himself. When I told him to stop it, he sent even more abusive messages and graphic photos. My parents contacted my ISP and changed my email address, as well as blocking him from sending me more messages. But even though I blocked him from contacting me online, he knew the chatrooms I used regularly, and posted messages there saying false and abusive things about me. Suddenly I started getting these threatening text messages from an unknown mobile number. The messages were saying that this man was going to find me and do all these terrible things to me. I was really upset so I told my parents and finally we reported it to the police.

Wendy Carlisle: These stories are scary. Kids do get abducted, threats of violence do occur. But the whole truth about paedophilia is much more complex.

Tim Lordan: Welcome to the Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee Forum called 'Just the facts about online youth victimisation'. My name is Tim Lordan; I'm the Executive Director of the Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee that's hosting this event.

Wendy Carlisle: New research presented to as US Congressional hearing about online child victimisation a few months ago by some of the world's leading researchers shows that in the vast majority of cases, the paedophile is quite open about their sexual intentions, and for a variety of complicated and disturbing reasons, the young person goes along with it.

According to these researchers what we really need to grapple with is understanding what makes these particular young people vulnerable.

Director of the Crimes Against Children Research Centre at the University of New Hampshire, Dr David Finkelhor.

David Finkelhor: What puts kids in danger is being willing to talk about sex online with strangers, or having a pattern of multiple risky activities on the web like going to sex sites and chat rooms, meeting lots of people there, kind of behaving in what we call like an Internet daredevil.

Wendy Carlisle: The paedophile grooming process is manipulative, complex and coercive; it plays into teen desires for romance, for adventure and information about sex.

But the key ingredient is always that the victim is a kid who is already at risk, they are already in trouble in the real world. They might already be being abused, neglected, or any number of other risk factors.

David Finkelhor: So for example, Jenna is a pretty typical case: 13 year old girl from a divorced family, frequented sex-oriented chat rooms, had the screen name of 'Evil Girl'. There she met a guy who after a number of conversations admitted he was 45. He flattered her, sent her gifts, jewellery. They talked about intimate things, and eventually he drove across several States to meet her for sex on several occasions in motel rooms. When he was arrested in her company, she was reluctant to co-operate with the law enforcement authorities.

Wendy Carlisle: The take-home message from David Finkelhor is that prevention strategies need to be much smarter than what we've been doing.

David Finkelhor: Parents' credibility and authority have worn thin with this age group and especially among some of the kids who we found to be at most risk for this kind of victimisation, and these are kids who've been victims of sexual or physical abuse, or kids who have substantial conflict situations in their family and with their parents.

In addition, we think we have to go way beyond the kind of bland warnings that have been typical of so much of the prevention that we're doing, that you shouldn't be giving out personal information.

So for example, we have to educate them about why hooking up with a 32-year-old guy has major drawbacks to it, like jail, bad press, public embarrassment. We have to educate them about the kind of ploys that people that they're going to meet online might use to gain their trust. We have to talk to them about why they should be discouraging rather than patronising sites and people who are doing offensive things online, fascinating as that may seem to them, but why that's not a good idea, why it encourages them and maybe puts other people at risk, too.

And unfortunately, these aren't easy sells. You know, it's just like discouraging kids from drinking or smoking. Simple scare tactics really don't work well. The effective strategies require depth manoeuvring within the complications of teenage psychology. I don't think we really know all the answers to that. We haven't got it figured out. It's going to take more careful development and testing.

Wendy Carlisle: At this point, the Congress convenor, Tim Lorden, interjected. He said Dr Finkelhor's research had thrown a real spanner in the works.

Tim Lordan: Well if I could interject. Just one point is that we've been doing online safety education to parents for a decade now. Our organisation does GetNetWise.org and the cornerstone of our education has been 'Tell your kids not to share their personal information online, in any way, shape, or form.' And I can think back 150 times where I've been in places where I've said that's the No.1 message.

Now Dr Ybarra and Dr Finkelhor, you've authored a paper in February of 2007, which basically says that message is all wrong. It doesn't put you statistically at an y greater risk of having a problem than other issues. So in a way a lot of us in the child safety advocacy field have said, 'Well we've been messaging all wrong for a decade', and I think some of the Congressional attention on this issue was predicated upon that cornerstone, 'Don't share your personal information online'. Social networking sites, they basically allow you to share a lot of personal information online, but you're saying that isn't necessarily due to high risk. Can you comment on that? Can you elaborate on that? And how could we have been so wrong, meaning us?

Wendy Carlisle: Dr Finkelhor said a lot more research needed to be done.

David Finkelhor: Obviously I think we do want them to think about issues related to what they want to disclose, for all kinds of reasons. It's a decision-making thing that we should certainly get them to think bout. But if the issue is preventing sexual victimisation, I don't think it's the top issue, and I actually, frankly, think we're going to have to do more research before we have really the answer of just how to go about doing it. I think we need to take a variety of these messages, pilot them, focus group them, and really see what takes.

Tim Lordan: Michele?

Michele Ybarra: This is just one of many instances where we're very well intentioned. We were wrong, we were well intentioned, we just spoke before we had the data.

Wendy Carlisle: One of the other speakers at the Congressional hearing was Dana Boyd, from the University of Southern California. She talked about some of the other factors which put teens at risk to paedophiles online.

Dana Boyd: The other things that are just deeply connected that I see over and over again, pressure, abandonment, you know one-parent abandonment is usually a huge issue. Workalcholism by parents, that's in the middle-upper class, that's a huge, huge problem and usually a big indicator or uh-oh's. Poverty on the other end, which usually also results in parents not being home at night because they have night jobs. Those are the four forces that I see continuously offline, resulting in risky behaviours online. And risky behaviours in school, and risky behaviours elsewhere.

Wendy Carlisle: There will be a link to the US Congressional hearing on the Background Briefing website.

Amid all the media attention, it's easy to think that we're in the midst of a child sexual abuse epidemic fuelled by the net. But the facts tell us another story. Child sexual abuse is actually declining.

From Griffith University, Professor of Criminology, Richard Wortley.

Richard Wortley: In fact recent figures tend to show that incidence of child sex offending is decreasing. Now it's always difficult to measure child sex offending because so much of it occurs between people who know each other and it's often not reported. But as near as we can work out the incidence is decreasing.

Wendy Carlisle: So why the panic?

Richard Wortley: Well look, it's been an amazing example I think of allowing ourselves to be whipped up into a moral panic. Now I've got to be cautious how I say this, because I don't want to underplay how serious child sex offending is, and I don't for a moment regard it as anything less than terribly serious. But I think we have allowed ourselves to be whipped into a hysteria about it, but in many ways it's not really very fruitful in trying to come up with solutions to solve the problem.

Wendy Carlisle: From where you sit, what would be the solution to dealing with paedophiles on the net?

Richard Wortley: Well let's think about the issue of paedophiles on the net and how accurate that picture is. Again, there's not a lot of research, but the available research tends to show again the stereotype of the deceptive paedophile who gets on the net, pretends to be an age-appropriate friend and seduces an unwilling victim is very much again, an inaccurate stereotype. The vast majority of cases that have been researched show that in most cases the perpetrator doesn't disguise the fact that they're adult. They may shave a few years off their age, but will often admit to being in their 30s or 40s. That in most cases the victim willingly proceeds with the relationship with the perpetrator, really knowing that they are dealing with an adult, and in most cases too, the adult is quite open about soliciting for sex. So in most cases where a meeting has been arranged, the victim generally goes to that meeting fully anticipating to meet an older person who has expressed sexual interest in them.

Wendy Carlisle: Concern about paedophiles using the Internet to find victims is also a big issue in the UK. They've also been running TV and radio ads.

Girl: It was out of control. I couldn't stop it. He made me feel special. Like I was the only one. The only one he wanted to be with. The only one he wanted to talk to. The only one he wanted to see. You know, really see.

Wendy Carlisle: When the Internet began a decade ago, Dr Rachel O'Connell was one of the first to research the online world of the paedophile, when she went under cover as a kid. She was the founding director of the Cyberspace Research Unit at the University of Lancashire, which was partly funded by the European Union. She then went on to do groundbreaking research which has informed a lot of policing with Interpol and Scotland Yard.

Dr O'Connell's work involved ingratiating herself into paedophile networks online, so that she could watch the grooming process. Some of this involved posing as young girls between the ages of 8 and 12. A couple of years ago she appeared before the Scottish Parliament's Justice Committee, and she gave an incredible insight into the grooming process.

Rachel O'Connell: There is an initial friendship-forming phase (Hi, how're you doing?). They want to isolate the child from public environments into a private chat room. They go through a relationship-forming phase. 'I know what that feels like', 'I want to be there for you'. Once a child is isolated, then in a private chat room, there is a kind of exclusivity phase that's introduced where they'll use very seductive and manipulative language. Going through the same things, 'Oh I feel like I have really bonded with you', 'I feel like you might be my soul mate', and words like 'I love you', and there have been occasions where I've been sitting there, 'Aah', and realising, 'What am I doing?' You know, it is that seductive, where you think 'God'. And they send emoticons that look like roses and smiley faces and they send you pictures, but also they may be manipulative in terms of making the child believe that they're ultimately in control of the situation.

And that's done through pretending to be weakened psychologically by the relationship and allowing the child to have the perception that they are guiding what happens.

And ultimately through the purposes of meetings, they may engage in cybersex, which basically is descriptions of what they would do if they were there, explaining to the child, and it's noteworthy that it didn't seem to make any difference whether I said I was 8 or 12, in terms of the depth that they would go in to explain particular sexual terms like masturbation, what it is, asking the child to do it, and what does that feel like. That's the sexual element in terms of the grooming. And that is used to strengthen the promise of a wonderful blossoming relationship when the person and the child will come to know each other fully.

Wendy Carlisle: There are links on the Background Briefing website to the full transcripts of this Justice Committee meeting in parliament in Scotland, and also to the full audio of the session.

Rachel O'Connell also talked to the MPs about the methods of the really dangerous, psychopathic paedophiles. These are the minority, and at the very extreme end of the spectrum, but they do exist.

They are more interested in stalking a child in order to do physical harm. In fact they may never engage with their victims at all on the net, but merely use it to find them and hunt them down. They are not dependent on their victim being troubled or risk-taking or silly, they just find out who they are and where they are, by tracking what they're doing as they innocently chat to their friends. The Internet makes this comparatively easy.

Rachel O'Connell.

Rachel O'Connell: This is just a paedophile's dream basically, because you have children uploading pictures, giving out the details of their everyday life, because it's an online journal. Now you have the opportunity on some of these websites to syndicate the website. What that means is that an individual can get the code of the website, which is easily accessible, use what's called an RSS feeder, get a program that says any time this little girl uploads new pictures, I want to it sent directly to my email account. Right? I want it to come directly. So the parameters of grooming are now about to alter whereby they don't actually necessarily have to make contact with the child.

So the scenario is, right? So there's a kid maybe finishing school and goes to hockey on Wednesday. She puts this up, she sends photos of the hockey pitch and on the side is like say, 'St Mary's School', what's the name of the street? 'Clovelly Drive Stree t' or whatever. So it's there. She send photos, send pictures of her friends, she uploads them; this is really great. An individual who's like, 'Oh, I like brown-haired, sallow-skinned, green-eyed little girls; I'll keep an eye on this'. So he then discovers through looking at the pictures, he can uniquely identify her face, and he can also identify her daily routine patterns, and also identify her location, without ever even having to speak to her. As a result of these blogging sites, she is effectively advertising, although advertising is - she's effectively making this information publicly accessible.

He may then contact his friends and engage in what paedophiles refer to as 'chicken hawking' - because they are the hawks and the kids are the chicken. So this is like mobile chicken hawking, whereby he can send messages to his friends, say 'Look, there's a really good one here'. They go, maybe follow her walking home of an evening, and then decide their plan of action. In my experience, and I put the weight of nine years of research behind this, I think this is what we're facing. In that situation, you have no prior contact with the child. What you actually have taking place is the police, when they analyse the computer will say, 'Oh gee, he was going to this site repeatedly, and this is the girl that was subsequently attacked.'

Wendy Carlisle: This horrifying behaviour is rare, but children must know that it is possible. It's nasty stuff, but parents too have to teach children to be wary.

No filter is going to completely prevent this. Mobile phones are another piece of technology which can be used to 'chicken hawk' children.

Rachel O'Connell: Increasingly, what's very noteworthy is that you've got moblogging sites now, where children can take photographs with their phone and upload it directly. So they're beginning to integrate into utilising those capabilities and there have been cases where they've sent phones to the kids, they've either said, 'Right, what kind of phone? What's the make and model that you have, and I'll send a mirror one, which you use only when you're communicating with me', or 'I'll send you one and I will keep it updated in credit'. So they are expanding beyond just the fixed Internet and computers to embrace the whole process through mobile technologies, which computers came below parents' radar, they are not aware but the mobile aspects are just like completely lost.

Wendy Carlisle: and she gave more insights into these kids at risk.

Rachel O'Connell: We wanted to get a psychological profile of those kids who take greater risks online. And the psychological profile that emerged was no surprise. They're high on thrill and adventure seeking, they're high on extroversion and high on social disinhibition. So the normal things that make a kid go 'Oops, my mum's going to be really cross if I do that', so they stop. These kids are high in social disinhibition, so that doesn't work for them. So the more we run fear campaigns, or like Oh my God, the more attractive it becomes and that's been my experience going into schools.

Wendy Carlisle: How does one teach young people, very young people, with their complex adolescent psychology and rebellious or naïve emotional states, to understand themselves, let alone to understand the complex levels of exploitation on the net.

Some pubescent kids are quite savvy, and they feel they know it all and can handle it.

Girl: OK, well, when I first started to use the Internet around like 12 or 13 years old, I used to go into chat rooms looking for other like teens my age. And I typed in 13 year old chat rooms, and I got a 13 year old chat room that was the name of it, for like 13 to 14 year olds, and 7 to 8. You know there were like 30, 40 year old guys like adding me and then all of a sudden these web cams with them masturbating were popping up and there was all this nasty stuff and they're like 'Give me your number' and all this stuff. And they pretend to be like your age, and then you find out. Like one guy I said, 'No, leave me alone', and he's like 'Oh, if my daughter acted like you', and like 'You're supposed to be like 13 mate, what are you talking about?'

Wendy Carlisle: Girls like this are quite cluey, and not especially horrified by images of masturbation per se. But they are still playing with fire.

Girl: A couple of my girlfriends used to go into chat rooms and actually search for cyberpredators, and they'd start talking to them and get to know them, but after a while they'd give them their phone numbers and ask for credit, so they were pretty much using the cybercreditors for phone credit. So they'd send their numbers and the old man or whatever they were, would go buy the credit and send the voucher number to the girls, creditors would send the girls the credit, they had expectations of getting text messages or numbers, either the girls would just ignore them, block the number of even change their number, just for the credit.

Wendy Carlisle: You hope these girls are as much in control as they think they are. It's certainly a dangerous game they're playing.

Working behind the scenes, trying to set up a national cybersafety educational campaign, is Robyn Treyvaud, a former headmistress who's now with the group Cybersafe Kids. Then she heard these girls talking about scamming paedophiles for phone cards, she said she'd never heard it talked about so openly, but everyone knew it was happening.

Robyn Treyvaud: And it's who's exploiting who. As you point out, these young girls, if you were to put up a website, let's say MySpace or Facebook and you had a photo of yourself and your age, you can actually be targeted within 15 minutes or even less. And often the person will reveal themselves to be an older person, usually a male, and these young girls are then using these guys really and getting them to pay for all sorts of services, you know, phone cards etc., and yes, I've seen it, and yes, I know that it's happening.

Wendy Carlisle: How widespread is it do you think?

Robyn Treyvaud: It's difficult to know, that's a really under-the-radar sort of activity. When I saw that video I know those sorts of activities occurred; I had never seen young people share it so publicly. I think it's tip-of-the-iceberg. When you do talk to certain age groups there are levels at which they are going to disclose the sorts of things that are going on. They've been under the radar for a long time; we've just got to ensure now that any proactive education campaigns that we have, actually start in the primary school, even as young as grade 2 and 3. They're all out there using the Internet, going into websites. I had a 10-year-old tell me the other day that they knew how to hack into a little site called Club Penguin, which is a social network site that parents have to their children up for, and there are some safety regulations there, but if we've got 10-year-olds already able to use the Internet to find ways to get around filters and safety features of these sorts of websites, this is where the moral compass comes in.

Wendy Carlisle: Within weeks, the government will begin rolling out free filters for every home computer. They will be amongst the most advanced filter technology in the world. Parents will be able to control how much, or how little they want to block from their home computer, based on key words, or chat rooms or instant messaging.

Newsreader: The government expects up to 2-1/2-million families to take up its offer of a free Internet filter. The Minister describes it as a simple and effective solution to the scourge of Internet pornography.

Helen Coonan: This is the single biggest commitment to protecting families online in the history of the Internet in Australia.

Wendy Carlisle: As with any filter technology there are limitations. For one things there's no such thing as an unhackable filter, and kids are pretty good hackers these days. Government-issued filters will be no different.

Robyn Treyvaud.

Robyn Treyvaud: It's fair to say too, that any filters or firewalls we even put in schools can be hacked into and very simple ways for young people to actually get around them. That's unethical. It's also illegal.

Wendy Carlisle: Indeed, but kids are doing it, aren't they?

Robyn Treyvaud: Yes, they're doing it.

Wendy Carlisle: And to what extent though are they going to be able to hack through the filters that they get at home from the government?

Robyn Treyvaud: I suspect that there will be solutions available on the web pretty quickly.

Wendy Carlisle: And there's another problem with filters. They don't work on mobile phones, and with high speed broadband just around the corner, the next generation of mobiles will virtually supercede the home computer. Teens will be swapping their old handsets for the next generation of mobiles which will enable them to download, upload, and chat in a way that they can only do now on the home PC or laptop. Parents will pretty soon discover that the filter technology has been superceded.

Child psychologist, Andrew Fuller.

Andrew Fuller: 3G is going to be a remarkable shift because of course what was reasonably policeable by essentially having computers located in one spot, now with young people being able to walk around with their mobile phones, being able to connect with one another, being able to send pictures to one another, being able to send email pictures to other people, being able in many cases to make short videos, and either post them on sites like YouTube or send them to a whole group of people, there's going to be a remarkable shift. So it means basically that the sort of controllability of young people's communication because it was occurring in a central spot, basically will go.

Wendy Carlisle: And of course the focus that the government's now got on Internet filters will be superceded by 3G because you can't put filters on 3G handsets.

Andrew Fuller: That's right, absolutely correct. And so a lot of the current sort of investment is going to be actually misguided and irrelevant within a very short period of time.

Wendy Carlisle: It's all prompted Andrew Fuller to ponder why we are so obsessed with controlling our kids with filters.

Andrew Fuller: The illusion of being able to control it through a filter, through net safety statements that basically may cover all statements about don't give out personal information; don't meet somebody you've met on the Internet; these are almost useless, laughable things that young people hear adults say, and it almost really reinforces how out of touch most adults are with the virtual world.

Wendy Carlisle: Is that what they say to you?

Andrew Fuller: Oh yes. Yes, they just see it as ridiculous really. It's almost as if what's being suggested is denying these kids this access to this incredible social world, and so they're not going to put that at risk at all.

Wendy Carlisle: Back at MySpace, the message is, we need to get smart about cyber education.

MySpace's Internet Safety Director, Rod Nockles.

Rod Nockles: When the media for instance, engage in this subject, some of them tend to run it as a very sort of hysterical approach that every person is being pursued by a paedophile on the Internet. When you do that, an important learning opportunity is being lost, because what tends to happen is that the parents and the teachers become overwhelmed. Because you're talking about people who don't feel as comfortable in the online environment as their younger people do. Some of them may not have any exposure to the Internet; others will have varying degrees of exposure to it. They feel overwhelmed and so they tend to then adopt a prohibition approach and say, 'We've got to get our kids off the Internet, this is just too dangerous an environment for them' And obviously that's very counterproductive. But the other thing that happens is that the very people that you're trying to reach, the young people that you're trying to engage in a safety dialogue, become very cynical because with this Internet generation, they are very comfortable in the online environment, yet unaware of some of the threats. But their response to an overblown fear campaign approach, is a cynical one, and they sort of suggest 'Look, this is no more than an example of previous generations who don't understand our environment, don't understand what we are doing, simply trying to lecture us.' And so they tend to switch off. Not only have we lost an opportunity to engage in genuine education, but you've even encouraged them in some respects to engage in ever riskier behaviours.

Wendy Carlisle: Background Briefing 's co-ordinating producer is Linda McGinness, research, Anna Whitfeld, technical operator is Leila Schunner. Our executive producer is Kirsten Garrett. I'm Wendy Carlisle, and you're with ABC Radio National.