Online sexual coercion, or “webcam blackmail”, is to be addressed in the classroom under a new internet safety initiative.
There has been rising concern over the safety of young people online following a number of cases where young girls have been coerced online to share sexually graphic pictures of themselves.
A new “Be in Ctrl” resource has been developed in partnership between education policymakers and the Garda to support teachers to address the topic of online sexual coercion and extortion.
The resource, which contains lesson plans and information packs for school leaders, is available for all schools to order or access online.
It is intended for use by junior cycle students as part of the SPHE (social, personal and health education) curriculum.
It is aimed at helping students understand that online sexual coercion and extortion of children is a crime, to raise awareness of safe online communication and to encourage young people to seek help and report incidents.
Speaking at the launch of the resource, Minister for Education Richard Bruton encouraged all schools to engage in this "very important area."
“We want to ensure our children are kept safe online. Today’s announcement is part of a suite of supports we offer schools in playing their part to ensure that our children are protected online.”
Potential for lifelong consequences
Assistant Garda Commissioner John O’Driscoll said posting or uploading explicit images or videos on social media, or passing such imagery to others online, was extremely dangerous and had potential to cause devastating and lifelong consequences for children and their families.
"Both parents and children should be aware of the dangers involved and the Garda Síochána advise that explicit images should never be posted or shared online," he said.
“Any child who receives a request to share explicit photographs should not do so. If a child receives a request of this nature, we urge them to tell a parent and immediately make contact with the Garda Síochána who will provide advice regarding how the matter can best be handled.”
A total of 80 teenagers from across the country have been trained as “safer internet day” ambassadors to raise awareness of these issues in their schools.
Jane Hayes Nally (18), a student ambassador at Midleton College in Co Cork who attended the training, said the resource could help ensure a safer internet experience for all.
She said it allows for students to design and plan projects on topical issues such as image-sharing, online wellbeing and privacy within their own schools.
The National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals said the new initiative would provide much-needed supports for teachers and school management who are working to promote internet safety in schools.
Clive Byrne, the association's director, said schools have an important role to play in promoting internet safety, while balancing this with the benefits that mobile devices such as laptops can bring in enhancing teaching and learning.
“In our view, policies such as a ban on mobile devices in our schools, is neither practical nor plausible, and would require schools to enforce an unworkable policy,” he said.
“Instead, increased resources, greater awareness, and enhanced information represents the most effective way to protect our children online.”
For further information, visit: www.saferinternetday.ie.