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Rise in online grooming, magistrate warns

Sex offenders are increasingly using social media to initiate contact and then groom their child victims, according to senior magistrate Juan Wolffe.

Mr Wolffe says he has noticed a “worrying rise” in the number of Supreme and Magistrate cases involving children where sites such as Facebook and Twitter have been used by the perpetrator.

In many cases the parents of the victim were completely oblivious to the conversations and communications their child had been having online, the magistrate told The Royal Gazette.

He urged parents to be aware of the pitfalls of social media and pay more attention to their children's online activities.

“One area that does not get talked about often in society is the effect social media is having on criminal behaviour,” he said. “Firstly we are seeing, particularly in offences where children are the victim, that social media is being used to lure children into illegal sexual activity.

“Social media is a fertile ground for those who want to exploit and victimise children.

“In the courts we often see that the victim does not even know the perpetrator until after they make contact on a social media medium like Facebook, Twitter or message chat.

“Now in many of the cases we deal with in court there is an element of this kind of communication and interaction.”

Mr Wolffe said that the prevalence of offenders using social media to groom victims had increased in the past 12 to 18 months considerably.

He also revealed that Facebook chats and interaction between perpetrator and victim was increasingly becoming part of the evidence put before courts in child sex offence cases. “The language used in some of these chats by some of these children is quite astounding and more often than not parents do not have a clue that it is going on,” he added.

“All the conversations are in cyberspace on applications like WhatsApp or Facebook that can be easily deleted.

“Parents need to understand what is out there in cyber space and what their children are doing.

“It's very concerning for me to see this increase play out in the courts. There's a subculture of activity and conversation that few parents know about or understand.

“Children are incredibly computer literate these days and perpetrators are using that to their advantage.”

Tread carefully: senior magistrate Juan Wolffe is urging parents to be aware of the pitfalls of social media (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published December 08, 2015 at 8:00 am (Updated December 08, 2015 at 8:20 am)

Rise in online grooming, magistrate warns

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