Technology, the Internet and social media are facts of life in today’s society, and with all the benefits, there is a dark corner where predators groom and lure young people.
When Warburg resident Colleen Foster was approached by a mother whose daughter was having online conversations with a man, she realized more needed to be done to educate children, parents and the community about online predators.
“The police became involved but she still spoke to him, “Foster told members of Leduc County Council during their meeting, Oct. 7th, “I realized she needed further help.”
While looking for that help, Foster discovered there was very little information available about the grooming process and few statistics were available when it comes to online victims. Nationally, one in three girls and one in six boys have been sexually assaulted but only 1 in 10 report the incidents.
“Like everywhere, when sexual assaults occur most are not reported,” she said.
What she did discover was that child luring on the Internet is on the increase, and that Alberta is in the top four among provinces.
“We determined we had a real problem here.”
Working with health care professionals, educators, the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton and youths aged eight to sixteen, a board of concerned people developed the Power Off Predators school-based program.
“Kids know about Internet safety, but they think it won’t happen to them, and they don’t understand how luring works,” said Foster. “By not teaching the public about the grooming process, we’re actually failing our youth.”
The pilot program was launched at two schools and a youth group last year. Following its presentation, they gathered input from participants and went back to the drawing board to make it as inclusive and youth-based as possible. Now that the presentation and technology has been revamped, Foster wants to launch the program in Leduc County, and was at council to request $10,000 in funding to make that happen.
As the targeted age groups for predators are Grades 5-12, Foster said it’s important to educate kids before that, and would like to see it presented in Grade 4. While she has spoken to schools in the Wildrose School District and Black Gold School District, Foster has not approached either boards with her ideas.
“We’ve approached schools individually and so far they are open to it. Several libraries are also willing to host the public presentation portion of this.”
While councillors said they are in favour of such a program, because Foster has not approached the school boards, they were reluctant to commit funding at this time.
“Because of the sensitivity around these issues, parents and the board need to know how it’s run,” said Division Five Councillor Tanni Doblanko.
Division One Councillor Rick Smith agreed. “There’s still work to do before you can launch the project.”
“I think if you have the blessing of Black Gold (School District) it’d be easier to move forward,” said Deputy Mayor Clay Stumph.
Foster’s presentation was accepted for information with a recommendation that she contact the school boards in the area before moving forward with her plan.