Pedophile cyber-stalkers "sail" in a legal vacuum

Save the Children Mexico said that until "grooming" is considered a crime, cyber police have their hands tied.
One in every seven teens, aged between 12 and 17, i.e. more than 1.5 million, have been solicited while surfing the net. (Illustration: EL UNIVERSAL)
16/08/2015
12:42
Abigail Gómez
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Valeria accepted the friend request of Chema on Facebook. He started a conversation and they soon became good friends. Valeria thought it was amazing how similar they were: they had the same tastes and interests, she felt that she had finally found someone who understood her. She thought Chema was a cute boy his age, 12, but he was not. He was 58 years old and was in fact a pederast who uses the Internet to find his victims.

What started as an innocent conversation turned into a nightmare for Valeria when she agreed to send nude photos of herself to her "friend". Once Chema got them, he revealed his true identity and extorted Valeria to have sex with him, threatening her to show the photos to her family and friends. The unbearable suffering caused by the harassment led her to consider suicide. Despite having dared to denounce and taking psychological therapy, Valeria thinks that her life will never be the same.

This is a case of grooming told by Save the Children to prevent the danger to which the 18 million children who have access to internet are exposed to on the cyberspace: grooming, sexting, sextortion and sexvenge.

One in every seven teens, aged between 12 and 17, i.e. more than 1.5 million, have been solicited while surfing the net, according to a research conducted by EL UNIVERSAL based on data from a study on the habits of Internet users in Mexico conducted in 2014 by the Mexican Internet Association and the Center without Violence on the Internet.

Luz María Velázquez, researcher of the Superior Institute of Education Science of the State of Mexico and an expert on violence on the Internet, said that 80% of children and teenagers know that people lie about their personality or image on social networks, but nonetheless have befriended or even fell in love with people they do not know in person.

"One in every four has fallen in love with someone who they only know online. Pedophiles take advantage of their great emotional need to trap them in their game," she explained.

Also a study conducted by Bitdefender, a Romanian Internet security institution, revealed that 30% of internet users under 14 suffer cyberstalking worldwide.

An Internet stalker can take as little as 12 minutes to hook a child and get an erotic photo or video, according to figures from Save the Children Mexico. Also, there are documented cases of pederasts who groom up to 200 different children during the same period, according to information provided by the United Nations (UN).

Hands tied

Marina Valdés, director of strategic alliances of Save the Children Mexico, said that "until grooming is considered a crime, cyber police have their hands tied. Even if they receive complaints of online harassment, they can not be registered or acted upon until the harassment turns into a rape, kidnapping or child pornography.

For this reason the organization launched an online campaign to criminalize grooming to prevent pedophiles from having access to minors. 

Specialists consider that grooming is the most dangerous form of cyber-stalking, because stalkers flatter their victims using a false identity so that children trust them and may later on accept a sexual encounter.

According to the Alliance for Internet Safety 73% of minors who accept a sexual encounter do it more than once.

In the case of sextortion pornographic material is obtained in order to demand a payment in order not to reveal the images, while in the case of sexting sexual images are revealed on the internet just for fun and in "sexvenge", erotic images and videos taken during a relationship are revealed after the break-up as a revenge.

 

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