Digital dangers facing Suffolk's young people revealed as Stay Safe Online campaign launched
PUBLISHED: 06:00 31 July 2017 | UPDATED: 09:22 31 July 2017
Cyber bullying, online grooming and sexting are just some of the digital safety risks facing young people in Suffolk - and they must be tackled head-on.
Today, supported with £100,000 worth of funding from Suffolk’s police and crime commissioner Tim Passmore, we launch our Stay Safe Online campaign aiming to expose – and help prevent – digital threats experienced by under-25s in the county.
Together with Suffolk County Council, Suffolk Community Foundation, Suffolk Constabulary, the University of Suffolk and Mr Passmore himself, we are driving forward Stay Safe Online with the help of children and young adults who have spoken out.
Mr Passmore, who is offering grants of around £10,000 to charities and community groups through the Stay Safe Online fund, said reports of grooming and violence in the county’s digital community has shot up in recent years – and stressed that action to prevent such threats must be taken now.
He added: “Keeping Suffolk’s young safe online is a real issue, of serious concern.
“We’ve had lots of reports about grooming and violence being incited online, which is unacceptable.
“We must work together with charities to protect young people through the campaign and make people aware what is happening. These threats need to be tackled now.”
Two young women from Suffolk spoke to this newspaper about their experiences.
A 16-year-old girl from Ipswich, who remains anonymous, was 12 when she began speaking to a man online. She said: “This person was just speaking to me to start with and over about two years or so we started talking more and more.
“When I was about 14 he began to ask for photographs. I did sent him some – not too explicit – but there was some nudity.
“But when I wouldn’t send any more he started to get angry so I spoke to my parents and the police were called.
“Unfortunately they could not do anything about it and the investigation was not continued.
She added: “To help get me through this and other problems I was going through at the time I had counselling for 18 weeks at a young people’s service.
“It helped me to get my self esteem back.”
Sarah Barnwell, from Lowestoft, waived her right to anonymity to talk to this newspaper about her experience with an older man.
After adding her on Facebook, Sarah said the man sent her an explicit message and kept contacting her when she did not reply.
The 21-year-old, who has learning difficulties, said she was left feeling shaken and upset.
“A man who was about 20 years older than me added me as a friend on Facebook which I didn’t think was too strange because he knew my family,” she said.
“He sent me a message out of the blue asking me what I was up to, I didn’t reply for a bit because I was concerned why he was contacting me but then he said something about sex and whether I was having it which upset me.
“I reported it to the police because I didn’t know who to turn to.
“They gave him a warning and told him to stay away from me which he has now.”
Her message to others who experience similar issues was to seek help.
She added: “I contacted the Access Community Trust (ACT) who really helped me to pull through.”
Professor Emma Bond, who is head of Socio-Technical Research at the University of Suffolk, has been researching online safety for more than a decade.
She is widely published on a range of subjects from sexting to pro-anorexic websites – and much of her research focuses on young people.
She has found that because of Suffolk’s rural nature, parents often do not realise their children are in danger too.
She said: “With the rise of apps like Snapchat and Instagram, people are sharing more of their lives than ever before.
“From my experience, some parents in Suffolk are great and realise it is happening.
“They sit down with their kids, Google advice and explain the risks to them.
“But others can unknowingly turn a blind eye and that’s something we’re trying to avoid, by helping to educate parents of the threat.”
Getting behind our campaign, Professor Bond is calling for a united and focused approach from communities.
She added: “We need to confront these issues head on. Prevention is key – and it’s about awareness too.”
Follow the campaign’s progress using the hashtag #StaySafeOnline on social media.
How to apply
Funding workshops for those interested in applying for Stay Safe Online grants will be hosted at the University of Suffolk next month.
Mr Passmore is particularly seeking applications from organisations working in partnership with schools and hard to reach groups.
Head down to the university on August 21 at 3.30pm if you are interested.
• Interested charities and community groups are encouraged to apply for a grant.
Call the Suffolk Community Foundation’s grants team on 01473 602602.