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Protect children from online predators, says Coquitlam group

The executive director of Coquitlam-based Children of the Street Society is calling on Premier Christy Clark to set up a provincial program that would stop children from being sexually exploited online.

Diane Sowden, who is also a Coquitlam school trustee, acknowledged that she met with Amanda Todd's mother before the girl's death about how to deal with a cyberstalker. The teen, who spiralled into depression and despair after an online predator allegedly distributed an inappropriate image of her, has inspired numerous anti-bullying campaigns.

But Sowden, who said she doesn't want to exploit Todd further by making an example of her, said sexual exploitation is at the heart of the tragedy and more should be done to protect children.

"We need to sit down and get the main individuals that work in this field together and make sure it's more seamless," Sowden said.

Her group (www.childrenofthestreet.com) has been trying to address the issue of child sexual exploitation for years but with the exponential growth in child luring online and what she says is a 900% increase in child pornography over five years, has shifted its focus to teach children how to behave appropriately online through workshops at schools.

Students as young as 11 and 12 years are being taught to be careful of revealing personal information and images, Sowden said, but workshops are already full through January and the group doesn't have the funding to travel to communities outside Vancouver where kids are also at risk.

There's also the problem of what to do when a child discloses that they have been approached by a stranger online or posted a personal photo.

"It's really difficult to support them because they don't want anyone to know about it, they don't want to share," Sowden said. "They have a lot of shame... You can't get it back once it's out there."

Her group is trying to address the matter through prevention but said more law enforcement is necessary to crack down on child lurers, and more resources are needed to help children and families.

To strike back, the group has started a media campaign against online predators (www.predatorwatch.ca) and those who are contemplating hooking up with a young person on line.

dstrandberg@tricitynews.com

 

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