Webchat bid to steer young away from harm

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As a mother of three teenage girls Det Chief Insp Sue Cawley is far from blind to the dangers of the internet.

And the former Blackpool-based police chief is part of a squad seeking to spread the word to others across the county – through a series of webchats this week.

Det Chief Insp Cawley transferred to Lancashire Police headquarters in Hutton in April to take up her new role as deputy head of the county’s public protection unit.

She told The Gazette: “It’s fascinating but really challenging work and work in Blackpool couldn’t have given me a better grounding.

“It ranges from domestic violence, honour based violence, forced marriage, sudden death of infants or children under 18, child sex exploitation and safety.”

On Tuesday, the detective will join an expert panel of representatives from young people’s services, the education sector, local councils, and the police service itself to present two special interactive web chats on the importance of staying safe online.

She added: “Hopefully we’re going to have someone from Blackpool who works with young people to help alert individuals to the predatory nature of some of those who frequent the internet.

“My fear is too many young people seriously under-estimate the dangers and one of the issues, speaking as a mother of three teenagers myself, is that not all parents are savvy about the risks themselves.

“We’re not just talking about the risk of sexual exploitation but bullying online. Obviously it links across a number of areas for potentially vulnerable young people who get hooked into unhealthy relationships with individuals and may get sexually exploited or have an unpleasant experience or go missing from home.

“Young people can develop a relationship online with an individual within their head who is totally different to the character they may meet in reality.

“Isolation within that little world can be become dangerous if they meet. Young people may be computer literate but they’re not always streetwise.”

The web chats, to which several local schools have already signed up, are being held during school time and after.

It is the second time police have held internet safety chats. “The first was such a success that we have organised this in response to demand,” says Det Chief Insp Cawley who admits she has not got a Facebook or Twitter account herself.

“We now use social networking as a valuable tool and I have three teenage daughters who use Twitter and Facebook and have told them in as graphic detail as they can stomach the risks they face in the vain hope it will put them off.

“I don’t have time or inclination myself but that’s the problem – too many parents would prefer not to get involved because they don’t understand it or it doesn’t interest them.

“It’s time we did. We have to see the dangers.”

Aimed

Tomorrow’s webchat sessions will be led by Det Insp Hazel Stewart and e-safety officer Lynne Asbridge along with safety experts from local authorities.

They will take place via the Lancashire Police website www.lancashire.police.uk and its Facebook site www.facebook.com/lancspolice.

The first, primarily aimed at students and teachers, will take place from 11.30am to 12:30pm while the second session, aimed at just young people, will take place from 4:30pm to 5.30pm.

Anyone who cannot take part in the chats, but who wants safety tips, can visit CEOP.co.uk for more information.