Pupils learn danger of the digital age

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Police took the CHAT SHARE THINK! schools project to Ballymoney High School last Wednesday, empowering young people and helping them to understand the risks associated with growing up and forming relationships in a digital age.

The project combines the unique insight of PSNI officers working in the Public Protection Unit (PPU) with funding, school links and the support of Ballymoney Policing and Community Safety Partnership (PCSP).

The result is a hard hitting and empowering workshop for pupils and parents which deal with issues such as online grooming, general internet safety and guidance on the law on the sharing of indecent images.

Sergeant Siobhan Ennis is the project lead, based in Ballymena. Sgt Ennis works as a PSNI officer within the Public Protection Unit (PPU).

One of the functions of this specialist unit is the management of registered sex offenders, and increasingly, the unit has dealt with the fall out associated with the misuse of technology involving young people, with some becoming either victims or offenders after having made, possessed or shared indecent images.

Sgt Ennis and her PPU colleague Constable Rachael Wilson developed the project in response to managing a 17-year-old boy who had been convicted of the distribution of an indecent image of a child.

The conviction came after the boy shared an intimate picture of an ex-girlfriend with friends via text message following the breakdown of the relationship.

The experience of managing him as an offender and seeing his 16-year-old ex-girlfriend as a victim convinced the officers that an education piece was much needed. With the foresight and support of the local PCSPs, CHAT SHARE THINK! was developed.

Sgt Siobhan Ennis commented:

“CHAT SHARE THINK! is about empowering young people to make the most out of the internet and social media. We give them simple, light-hearted advice like, don’t share anything that you wouldn’t want your granny to see, as well as explaining some of the more serious dealings we have had with victims and offenders.

“It can make for uncomfortable listening and discussions for parents and pupils, but ultimately the project aims to protect our young people and ground their virtual world in real world situations.”