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Be safe online with SOLOS

May 17, 2012

The home page of The Safe Online Outreach Society (SOLOS) states, “Predators online are actively recruiting young people for exploitation in the street sex trade as well as manipulating young children into producing digital images of themselves which are then used as stimulation for pedophilic fantasies. All British Columbian youth are at-risk due to the newness of the medium, the lack of parental knowledge about online risks and lack of training to professionals about this emerging form of exploitation”.

“In recent posts “Canadians in the fight against sexual exploitation of children” and “The nasty business of exploitation of Canadian children“, I wrote about some of the Canadian organizations that are working primarily in third world countries against sexual exploitation of children and the risks that our children face in Canada. Merlyn Horton, a woman  with street creds – 15 years of working with sexually exploited, drug-affected and street-entrenched youth – started SOLOS in 2002 in BC when she recognized that parents, kids and the many agencies that deal with kids were unaware of the risks that the internet brought. Merlyn spoke to me about the problem and what SOLOS does to help prevent it.

Kids who are lonely or who need a place to stay or some food, kids have been abused, and kids with disabilities are still the most vulnerable. Merlyn says that our First Nations youth are particularly susceptible as many of them come from a background of drug or alcohol abuse with the developmental problems that those bring, and have faced sexual abuse, poverty, isolation, and the aftermath of residential schools. Looking for a way out, they are often easy targets and are over-represented in prostitution statistics.  In the past, things were out in the open, kids and adult prostitutes hung out on the streets, pimps patrolled in limos. While this still occurs, the internet is now a key means for recruiting participants from small towns to the city, distributing pornographic imagery and marketing sex for sale. And even kids who are not in the normal risk groups are easily caught up in exploitative situations.

Merlyn points out that one in five teenagers has been solicited sexually online. For many the risk comes their own conduct and interaction with peers online, such as sexting. Her advice? Don’t talk about sex online. Don’t send racy photos. Distribution of explicit photos by your phone or over the internet could be distribution of pornography which is a criminal offence. What impact will it have on you when your boyfriend decides to share it with his friends or the world. The information lasts forever. Do you want your employer to see it? One in five employers checks you out online before hiring. Photo recognition software can pick you out of the crowd. Kids don’t understand the risks and parents don’t know what the kids are doing.

SOLOS’ mission is to educate about the dangers of online use, promote open discussion between adults and youth and teach safe use practices, and inform all the players of emerging trends in online youth culture. Kids, parents, foster parents, teachers, parent advisory groups, school administrators, school liaison officers, probation officers, restorative justice practitioners, victim services, mental health workers, family counselors, police officers and social workers are among the 84,344 people who have attended one of the 723 presentations put on by SOLOS since 2002.

Realizing that it would be effective to ‘train the trainers’, SOLOS recently designed a program to train members of aboriginal communities who can then share that information more effectively. SOLOS has also developed a Youth 2 Youth model in which high school students teach online safety to elementary school children. It also offer programs about cyberbullying. If you would like to book one of the workshops, check out the website ,or peruse SOLO’s library of helpful material.

Merlyn gives this sober piece of advice to parents, “Have values-based conversations with kids about pornography and sexuality. If you don’t, others will.”

Photo courtesy of Ohmega1982 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 7, 2012 7:23 pm

    Thanks to the folks at SOLOS for their kind words about this article. http://www.safeonlineoutreach.com/blog/?p=1185

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  1. A Community Shout Out For SOLOS « Roadtrips and Ramblings

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