Experts share tips for protecting Suffolk children from taking risks online at university summit

Speakers at the University of Suffolk's Blurring Boundaries conference. From left to right: Simon Du

Speakers at the University of Suffolk's Blurring Boundaries conference. From left to right: Simon Dukes, DI Claire Burgess, Tim Passmore, Vicki Green, Professor Emma Bond, Paul Maskell, Professor Andy Phippen and Professor Mohammad Dastbaz. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

Protecting vulnerable children and teenagers in Suffolk from taking risks online is everyone’s responsibility, experts are warning.

Speakers at the University of Suffolk's Blurring Boundaries conference. From left to right: Simon Du

Speakers at the University of Suffolk's Blurring Boundaries conference. From left to right: Simon Dukes, DI Claire Burgess, Tim Passmore, Vicki Green, Professor Emma Bond, Paul Maskell, Professor Andy Phippen and Professor Mohammad Dastbaz. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

A collaborative approach will play a crucial role in doing this, speakers from around the globe urged at a special online safety conference hosted at the University of Suffolk today – which also saw the results of the county’s annual cybersurvey revealed in full.

Called ‘Blurring Boundaries’, the summit had the aim of narrowing the communication gap between adults and children and starting meaningful conversations about online safety.

Professor Emma Bond, director of research at the University of Suffolk, said: “We’ve got 180 different organisations represented here so when you think how many children that they are working with that’s an incredible impact and reach.

“I think people are more aware of some of the risks and they are taking their responsibility about how they can respond better to protect children which is fantastic.

“Suffolk is quite unique in the way that we do all work together on this.”

Speakers at the University of Suffolk's Blurring Boundaries conference. From left to right: Simon Du

Speakers at the University of Suffolk's Blurring Boundaries conference. From left to right: Simon Dukes, DI Claire Burgess, Tim Passmore, Vicki Green, Professor Emma Bond, Paul Maskell, Professor Andy Phippen and Professor Mohammad Dastbaz. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

Keynote speaker Professor Andy Phippen, from the University of Plymouth, gave a talk about sending nude images.

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He said: “We need to stop thinking we know better and start listening to young people.

“Banning technology is never going to be the solution, it will only ever exacerbate the problem and put children at greater risk.

“It is not the fault of Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.”

Emphasis was also placed on working together, and how much it can achieve.

Speakers at the University of Suffolk's Blurring Boundaries conference. From left to right: Simon Du

Speakers at the University of Suffolk's Blurring Boundaries conference. From left to right: Simon Dukes, DI Claire Burgess, Tim Passmore, Vicki Green, Professor Emma Bond, Paul Maskell, Professor Andy Phippen and Professor Mohammad Dastbaz. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

Last year the Stay Safe Online initiative – worked on by several Suffolk organisations – was launched with the aim of tackling threats such as cyber bullying, online grooming and sexting.

Suffolk police and crime commissioner Tim Passmore, who introduced a £100,000 Stay Safe Online fund for charities and community groups, said: “The power of collaboration is absolutely crucial.

“If we leave behind marginal groups for whatever reason, for instance refugees or other groups, this is a recipe for disaster and trouble.”

Tim Holder, head of public affairs at the Suffolk Community Foundation, is part of the team that made the grant scheme possible.

He added: “What I have learned as part of the joined-up Stay Safe Online team is how much talent we have here in Suffolk.

“This is only the first stage and it doesn’t stop here.”

‘It’s got to be everybody’

As the full results of the 2017 Suffolk cybersurvey were revealed during the conference, Professor Bond said action needs to be taken quickly – and by everyone.

In the report, almost half of 15-year-olds said they visited pro-anorexia sites.

Suffolk's Police and Crime Commissioner, Tim Passmore, said a collaborative approach is crucial. Pic

Suffolk's Police and Crime Commissioner, Tim Passmore, said a collaborative approach is crucial. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

Around a third admitted to accessing websites promoting self harm or suicide.

She added: “I think there is real concern about the risks surrounding 15-year-olds.

“We need to find out why we are seeing a peak at that age.

“I think what’s also really concerning is the rise in the pro-anorexia, pro-suicide and pro-self harm sites.

“Obviously there is a clear link to mental health in young people but if they are visiting those sites they are incredibly dangerous.

Tim Holder made a speech at the conference. Picture: SIMON LEE PHOTOGRAPHY

Tim Holder made a speech at the conference. Picture: SIMON LEE PHOTOGRAPHY - Credit: Archant

“If we’re seeing a rise in that, we need to see a good education around the issue to try and get them to try and think critically about the situation.

“It’s got to be everybody, it’s got to be parents, it’s got to be educators, this is everybody’s responsibility.”

The survey also revealed increases in 15-year-olds visiting websites promoting racist views, and identified a range of vulnerable groups including young carers, children with mental health issues and those with special needs.

It also gave an insight into how young people view their phones – with one youngster saying: “My phone makes me feel I exist.”

Vicki Green, another speaker at the conference, is head of strategy at the Marie Collins foundation.

She said: “Children being sexually harmed online is a big problem.

“It’s not exclusively online but the fact is that the online environment has created a facility really for perpetrators to be able to access children in a way that they’ve never been able to before.

“It’s also created a safe space for them to be able to work to groom children and then children are then drawn into it and find themselves being sexually abused online.

She added: “I think professionals need to be asking questions, they need to understand and move away from having the responsibility on the children.

“Young people still think that if you post an image of yourself online it is your fault.

“We need to turn the table a little bit and have people recognise that people groom people to do that.”

Visit the e-Safer Suffolk website a more in-depth look at the 2017 cybersurvey.

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