Online safety an ongoing concern

Sir Oliver Mowat Collegiate has scheduled two Every Keystroke has a Consequence assemblies for March 18. The presentations take a preventative approach and teach students about safe Internet usage and how to report child exploitation online. With computer labs and Internet access across the school board, why haven’t other area schools booked theirs?

A joint effort between the Empowered Student Partnership (E.S.P.) and the Toronto Police Service, all Toronto schools are encouraged to schedule the presentation by the street crime unit.

Like sexual harassment, many students may feel as though online exploitation will never happen to them. While students may not be viewing child pornography, they can still fall victim to an online predator. They may be stalked online or lured to meet in person, says Detective Janet Sullivan of the sex crimes unit.

Recent police statistics say over 4,000 computers in Toronto traded images of child sexual abuse over a four month period in 2007.

The police only know of a pedophile if someone reports them, Sullivan says. But you can assume that if someone is collecting sexual images of children, they have a sexual interest in them.

And despite the efforts of the school board, students seemed disinterested with previous safety material. Many had never even read the code of conduct in their agendas.

The “Keystroke” presentations are a step in the right direction with both street crime officers and a student leading the discussion. Students will hopefully feel more comfortable giving their input in a relaxed atmosphere instead of being given brochures and handouts.

If a school has decided not to have a “Keystroke” presentation, we must question their decision. Information is available on the Toronto Police Services website for parents who want to do their part at home.

Sullivan encourages parents to continue monitoring their children’s online activities and chat logs.

“It’s important that they [kids] know there are predators out there, and that their online activities have consequences,” she says.

International Safer Internet Day on Feb. 12 may come around once a year, but staff, students, and parents should be talking about online safety all year-round.