Police Scotland Online Safety Training: Factually Wrong & Inappropriate Language
I attended a workshop by Police Scotland on online safety. I was under the impression that it was aimed at arming parents with skills to talk to their children about online safety. Instead, it was full of inappropriate language and some fairly surprising factual inaccuracies.
Within the first five minutes, we were given misinformation about the reason that Facebook does not allow children under the age of 13 to register. As is widely known due to media coverage, it is because of American laws on child privacy. The police officer who gave the training implied it was due to Facebook management's theories of child development. For someone giving training on social media and children to not know this is quite worrying.
The training was heavy on telling children to block and delete, which is easier said than done and doesn't reflect the reality of peer pressure. Instead, there was a suggestion that children being cyberbullied didn't want to block as they liked the negative attention - which is a rather lovely way to blame children for being bullied. And, completely ignores the fact that some children don't block because the fear of not knowing what is being said about them is more intense than actually knowing.
Where the training really failed was in relation to child sexual exploitation. The first example was of a group of 14 year old girls drunk in a park whose location was made available due to geotagging on their twitter feeds. At this point, a group of sober 18-19 year olds arrived at the park. It isn't clear if this anecdote was real, but the officer was very clear in blaming the girls for putting themselves at risk because of the geotagging. There was no discussion of the fact that a group of adult had chosen to prey on vulnerable children - that sexual assault and rape were the real crimes.
Secondly, there was a whole section devoted to Miley Cyrus and asking "why we want our kids to idolise her" without once attempting to contextualise Cyrus' move from a child star to adult which inevitably involves the sexualisation of her as a teenager. There was no discussion of the grooming of teenage girls in the music industry or that female artists who do not engage in sexualised imagery are rarely supported in their music. Nope, the problem with sexualisation of young girls is all the fault of Miley Cyrus.
Thirdly, there was a heavy emphasis on stranger danger in relation to online grooming. There was no mention of the fact that the vast majority of children who are groomed and sexually assaulted are victimised at the hands of family and acquaintances. Social media makes it easier for predators already in contact with children (as family members, teachers, coaches ...).
There were numerous places where inappropriate language was used. The officer referred to a 19 year old man assaulting a 12 year old girl as a paedophile. This conflation with paedophilia and child rape is, simply, wrong. Paedophilia is a psychological condition and some who have this do not perpetrate crimes against children. The VAST majority of men who abuse children make a choice to do so - they do not have any underlying psychological conditions (although having a clinical diagnosis of paedophilia does not negate criminal liability). This myth was reinforced when the officer used the word 'beast' to refer to people on the sex offenders registry.
She then used the term 'silly mistake" to refer to a 17 year old boy who shared intimate images of his ex-partner and insisted that it was completely different to so-called revenge porn. A 17 year old who shares intimate images is doing so in full knowledge that it will cause harm to their former partner.
I was really shocked at how little information was given to help parents access resources to learn about online safety. I was even more shocked by the victim blaming and misinformation given during the training. If my child was being cyber-bullied or was a victim of sexual violence online, I'm not sure I'd trust Police Scotland to help if this is the type of training offered.