“People are going to think this is only a problem at D.A. Ferguson, but this is a concern that is far greater than just D.A. Ferguson,” said Holly Godson, principal at D.A. Ferguson School, before introducing the guest speakers. “It is far greater than just Horizon School Division, it is far greater than just Canada,” She added there were various stakeholders in the community who identified the need for the information session.
“Our kids and their future are important. This evening is an evening to have a conversation.”
Constable Rob MacGregor of the Technology Crimes, Internet Child Exploitation Unit (ICE) from the Lethbridge Regional Police was on hand to speak on internet safety.
Any crime relating to child pornography happening over the Internet, or luring, or voyeurism is what MacGregor investigates.
If you were to cast a person in a policeman show, MacGregor would be a likely candidate with his shaven head, stalky build and strong presence.
But for the sake of his job, behind the computer screen…he at times poses as a 14-year-old girl.
“I go online and see who hits on me, basically. The other thing I do is go on the Internet and see who is trading child pornography images and videos,” said MacGregor. “A lot of the time my investigations lead to sexual assaults that have been committed on family members and kids, or pictures that have been taken to be traded on the Internet.”
The crime of child pornography has changed immensely even in the last 10 years. MacGregor quizzed the crowd on who possessed a Smart Phone 10 years ago, to five years ago to now.
“Who doesn’t have a Smart Phone here?” asked MacGregor in which three people raised their hands in a packed gymnasium at D.A. Ferguson of concerned parents. “Probably everyone with a Smartphone has the capability of accessing the Internet, you can see how the medium of child pornography has changed.”
For those wanting to trade child pornography 15 years ago, you would literally have to walk up to someone you suspect of being a pedophile and ask to exchange images. The person can say so, report it to police and the person would be arrested.
“Now, because of the media, I can go on the Internet and find all types of chapters where I can trade child pornography and be anonymous which is what they are thinking. But, the tools I have allow me to break down that anonymous barrier and find out who they are,” said MacGregor.
MacGregor has dealt with situations in school where teenagers in relationships have exchanged naked pictures of each other.
“They think that’s going to be the love of their life and it’s never going to get out that they are sending pictures of their private parts to each other.”
“Guess what, they break up a week later and they decide to show the naked pictures that they have to all their friends,” said MacGregor. “We have heard of stories like this in Taber, and it happens.”
MacGregor quizzed the crowd once again asking which parents are still with their high school sweetheart…a mere handful raised their hands.
“Relationships break down and sometimes those private moments you share with someone don’t remain private,” said MacGregor. “When kids start trading images people they have dated or people they have nude photos of, even though you are a child and sending nude pictures of a child, you are still distributing child pornography. The people who receive those images are then in possession of child pornography. If people continue to share (or keep) images, child pornography charges can result after an investigation for whoever is part of that game.”
If a child is receiving an unwanted sexual image, MacGregor speaking as a police officer, encouraged them to keep it on their phone as evidence and report it to police as MacGregor cautioned the teens sending the images as well.
“As a police officer I want that evidence. I want to know who that person is, who is sending it and I also want to see if it’s in my child pornography data base to see if that image is showing up in Calgary or in Scotland,” said MacGregor. “If people think that when they send a nude image, it’s going to stay within the two people, once it goes out there it can spread like wildfire where we’ve seen people in Lethbridge with their pictures on child pornography sites from Romania.”
Along with law enforcement, police do education programs on internet safety as well. The packed crowd watched a few different videos which included how young people can be lured into situations from predators because the anonymous person on the other side of the keyboard is whispering sweet nothings in their ear.”
“I can tell you for the dozens of luring investigations that I do, I can take those words that the girl said in the video of how ‘I thought he was the only person who cared about me,’ ‘I thought he loved me, he knew what I was feeling and I felt special.’ I can take those words and put them in every statement I’ve taken,” said MacGregor. “It’s the same. These predators that are online with kids are telling them what they want to hear in order to get them to do what they want which is show themselves naked online.”
Senior Constable Dave Dube of the Taber Police Service quoted a study that was released by Alberta Education showing of 90 per cent of students they polled had taken a nude picture of themselves. Thirty per cent of those images were sent to people they didn’t know.
“These things are happening and they are scary,” said Dube, adding studies are showing parents are communicating less with their children on Internet safety such as sites they should not be visiting. “This stuff can be addressed at schools, but for it to really hit home, it has to be discussed at home. Eighty five per cent of Grade 11s are accessing the internet on cellphones, nobody is going down to their big desktop PC anymore.”