Role-playing game looks to stamp out child porn

Chat rooms provide a great avenue for children to shoot the breeze with peers; however, they also have an unsettling side: where paedophiles, hiding behind masks, attempt to lure young ones from their homes. Realising this threat, the Australian Communications and Media Authority along with the police, are using a role-playing activity that helps educate children about child porn seeking adults, and ensure they are free from potential harm.

The presence of paedophiles on chat and IM is a growing concern, said Mark Yarrow, federal agent in the Australian Federal Police's online child sex exploitation team. "It is happening. It is a real threat to children."

As much as the Internet has its positives, Yarrow said, people use it for the wrong reasons as well. "Not everything on the Internet is right," he said.

To reduce this threat of child porn, the ACMA has been running an activity called Cybersmart Detectives this past year. The activity was originally developed by UK-based Childnet International, and is targeted at teaching upper primary school children, around the age of 11 and 12 years, Internet safety messages, particularly related to those in the use of Internet chat rooms.

Cybersmart Detectives' key message to the kids is to be aware that, in the online environment, people may not be who they say they are; and if they want to meet someone face-to-face who they've chatted with, they should always take a parent or an adult with them.

The activity, which runs for about an hour, takes on the form of a simulated chat room where a child, unbeknownst to him or her, is engaged in conversation with a paedophile who ultimately tries to lure them from their home and to meet them in person. It is at this stage the child is then put in immediate danger.

On Wednesday, to mark National Child Protection Week, over 500 students from 19 schools joined the chatroom, the first time it has been coordinated nationally. The activity was managed by a group of Internet safety experts, and the Australian Federal Police, who delivered clues and responded to the students' questions throughout the exercise.

ACMA's Sharon Trotter said its role is to raise awareness of Internet safety issues. "We know this is a very good learning tool for kids," she said, as it teaches kids they need to stay in control over the activities on the Internet. 'It is more about contact issues. It is about people who just don't want to be friends," she added.

Because Cybersmart Detectives is designed to be run in conjunction with ACMA and law enforcement officials, whether it is the AFP or state police services, the activity cannot be run independently by schools.

Trotter said the next activity was expected to run in the next couple of months as a number of schools were already interested.

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Howard Dahdah

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