The Home Office today announced a £1m advertising campaign to warn children and their parents of the dangers of chat-room paedophiles, "without demonising the Internet".
The government web site www.thinkuknow.co.uk has been redeveloped and updated with information and advice for young people who use the Internet. The Home Office advertising campaign includes TV spots in January, supported by radio and online advertising.
The campaign builds on last year's safer surfing message, hailed by the Government as a success, resulting in an "11 per cent increase in awareness among children to not give out their personal details online and a 12 per cent increase among parents of safety measures for children using the Internet".
This year, the government is spending less money - the budget last year for the safer surfing campaign was £1.5m. And with a chunk going on TV advertising, the money will surely go less far than before. Unless advertising rates have really plummeted.
Today, the Home Office also publishes the world's first "Models of Good Practice", an advisory for providers of Internet content and services who "offer chat, instant messaging and web-based services. They provide sound steps to follow to make their services safer for children".
The Models are welcomed by Nicholas Lansman, Secretary General of the Internet Services Providers' Association (ISPA UK).
"Just like the offline world, the online world has its hazards. ISPA and its members want to make the UK Internet as safe as possible for younger users. Our work with the Home Office has produced another first for the UK Internet industry. The publication of this good practice shows ISPA's and the Government's commitment to making the UK the safest place for children to go online."
The UK government wants to make paedophile 'grooming' of children an offence, but outside the Internet chat-rooms, it is difficult to see how one can amass enough evidence to construct a solid court case. There is more on the proposals on this government web site, www.protectingthepublic.homeoffice.gov.uk. And here is a Guardian Q+A on the bill.
So how common is sexual grooming on the Internet? Does anyone have any literature/stats about the prevalence of Internet chat-room grooming? The victims, in the few examples of such predators to reach the public eye, appear almost entirely to be teenage girls, which doesn't make it any better. But maybe, this is where the warnings should go.
Most child protection experts will tell you that predatory paedophiles are rare, and thankfully the likes of Roy Whiting, notorious murderer of Sarah Payne, are very rare indeed.