Looking for safe ground on the Internet

Children test the free Internet connection at a children’s festival in South Jakarta in this file photo. (JP/P.J. Leo)
Children test the free Internet connection at a children’s festival in South Jakarta in this file photo. (JP/P.J. Leo)

New technologies are forever a blessing and a curse, as in the case of inevitable exposure of the young to unknown abusers in cyberspace. The Jakarta Post’s Prodita Sabarini reports on the issue from Jakarta, Bogor and Bandung, on the preparedness, or lack of it, in preventing children from falling victim to sexual predators.

According to ECPAT International, cyberspace is home to more than 1 million images of tens of thousands of children being subjected to sexual abuse and exploitation. A 2010 report from the International Watch Foundation states that 17 percent of the world’s child sex abuse web addresses are based in Asia.

From a two-month survey conducted by ECPAT this year, the foundation discovered 137 cases of commercial sexual exploitation that used social media or mobile messenger services in Jakarta, Bandung and Batam.

The director of ECPAT Indonesia, Irwanto, said that the pervasiveness of the Internet in children’s live made children to vulnerable to sexual predators lurking online. “This can happen to anyone,” he said.

The mother of a 14-year-old girl from Depok who fell prey to an online sexual predator and was nearly trafficked to Batam, said she hoped the government would take firmer action against sexual predators who exploited the Internet to search for their victims.

She endured sleepless nights when her daughter, identified as SAS, did not return home in late September after saying that she was going to visit a sick friend before heading to church choir practice.

SAS was allegedly kidnapped and taken to Bogor, drugged and repeatedly raped by Catur Sugiarto, 24, a man who befriended her on Facebook. Child activists believe a child sex trafficking ring was involved as SAS said that her kidnapper told her she was to be shipped to Batam, an island that is a notorious sex trafficking destination. SAS was found on Sept. 26 at the Depok bus terminal after her alleged captor left her there. SAS’ lawyer, Dwi Handi Pardede, said that her kidnappers probably became scared because of the media coverage of the missing girl and returned her to Depok.

SAS also said that she saw at least four other girls between the ages of 14 and 17 in the house where she was held captive.

SAS’ abduction brought the issue of online-based sexual violence against children to the fore. But it also showed a sinister side of some members of the public against victims of sexual violence. SAS was denounced and humiliated in front of other students by her former school principal on her first day back at school after the ordeal.

Education and Culture Minister Mohammad Nuh made a controversial statement about underage victims of rape, implying that a lot of girls consented to sex and then claimed rape.

The minister made this comment despite the fact that consent is irrelevant in sexual relations between an adult and a minor. Under the Penal Code and the Child Protection Law, any kind of sexual relationship between an adult and a minor is a crime.

SAS’ mother said that her daughter was trying to rebuild her life and that she had changed schools. She worried though about other girls as her daughter’s kidnapper remained at large. “The police haven’t caught the perpetrator. The government has to act more firmly. Other victims are at risk,” she said.

Indeed, SAS’s story is hardly the only incidence of sexual violence. The National Commission for Child Protection (Komnas PA) this year received 129 reports of missing children. The commission believes that 27 of them went missing after meeting their abductors through Facebook.

With the many risks that come with social media, parents should monitor their children’s online activity, a child activist says.

Irwanto, the director of ECPAT Indonesia, a child protection NGO, said that parents should be aware of the dangers posed by social media and take active steps to protect their children.

Irwanto said that one way was to install monitoring software on their computers to monitor their children’s social media accounts.

Software developers and security firms have released applications for parental monitoring. Among the paid products and services available are ZoneAlarm SocialGuard, TrueCare and SocialShield. MinorMonitor also provides free monitoring software.

These applications allow parents to monitor their children’s online activity, including alerting parents to the existence of their chidren’s acquaintances with a low number of mutual friends and identifying online friends that might be too old.

Children’s activities online leave them vulnerable to sexual predators, cyber-bullying, pornography and sharing too much personal information online.

Irwanto said that parents should also try to have an open discussion about sex education. “Many teenagers do not know who to talk to about sex,” he said. He said that children were at risk of looking for answers among their peers, which could lead to risky sexual behavior and sexual exploitation.

The Jakarta Post | Reportage | Sun, January 27 2013

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