A story about Internet grooming.
Edah sat in the cold room, shivering and frightened, she wondered how she had got herself into this terrible mess. She was not sure how she would get herself out of it.
She crouched in the corner feeling dreadful inside. How could she have been so stupid? She had been warned about the dangers of Internet dating and she had just laughed; now this.
Edah began to piece together the story which was her life. She had been happy as a young child with her mum and dad and younger brother. When she was 10, her father left and her mother could no longer afford to live in their nice comfortable home. They had to move to a flat on the other side of town. She had to go to a new school. She knew no one. Some schools are very good at making new students feel welcome but this was a large new primary school where everyone seemed to rush around not noticing Edah. She was feeling quite sad, and rather shy after her father left home. She missed him a lot. She used to sit on the second-to-bottom step outside the entrance to the main school building. That way she saw lots of people and she thought that maybe someone would speak to her but they never did. After a year at that school, Edah went on to the local comprehensive. She hoped that she would meet some new friends, but she had got into the habit of hoping people would speak to her. She didn’t think that she should make the first move. What if the person she spoke to didn’t like her? How bad would that be?
Edah was listening to a conversation between some girls in her class. They were gossiping about ‘chatting’ on Facebook. It sounded like good fun. They were talking about having a lot of Facebook friends. Edah thought that would be nice. If she could find friends on Facebook, perhaps she wouldn’t be so lonely.
Edah’s mother had a computer which she allowed the children to use sometimes. She was so tired after work that she only had the energy to watch television in the tiny sitting room. Edah knew how to go online and had learnt how to up-load photographs. She accessed a photo of herself from her mother’s picture folder. That would do. She looked quite grown up, much older than her 12 years.
Edah had asked a girl in school how to join Facebook and the girl had explained what to do.
“I’ll be your first friend if you like. I’ve got 472 friends I am going to try to get 500 before Christmas”, she said.
Edah felt flattered that this girl had offered to be a friend even if only on Facebook. She began to feel quite excited. Maybe life was going to improve. It didn’t matter if you were shy on Facebook. No one would know. Unfortunately Edah’s mother didn’t understand how such networking sites operated. She just said “Oh, that’s nice. Don’t spend too long on it Edah – you must leave time for your homework”.
Nobody told Edah about the dangers of the Internet. Most people are more or less what they say they are. They might pretend to be prettier or cleverer or to have more money than they actually do, just for fun. Mostly they just make funny or not very funny comments to each other. But sometimes they pour out their troubles to anyone who will listen….
One-day Edah overheard the girls in school chatting about dating. One of them said she had met a boy on Facebook. He was from her old primary school, but was two years older than she was. She had arranged to meet him and go to the park with him to chat about the old school and things. She told her friends that he was nice and that she would be seeing him again.
Edah felt excited inside, she wondered if she could just ask on Facebook if anyone from her first school was on line. She had the best time in that school.
A reply came. She didn’t recognise the name. It was a girl’s name, Jackie. The girl said she remembered Edah, although Edah did not remember her. The two of them struck up a ‘friendship’. The girl asked Edah all about herself and having no one else to talk to Edah told this girl everything. After about two weeks, the girl suggested Edah and she should get together and have a ‘proper chat’.
They arranged to meet outside the post office in the main street of the area where Edah lived.
Edah told her mum she was going to meet a school friend. That Saturday off she went.
A friendly looking man approached her outside the post office. He said he was Jackie’s dad. He seemed to know all about her. He said Jackie had to look after her little brother so he had come to fetch Edah. Edah believed him. She got into his car and was taken to a cold, empty house in an area she didn’t know. The man told her to wait in a room. He locked the door behind him.
You are not going to hear about the end of this story. Many things might have happened to Edah. Some of them very bad indeed. Maybe she managed to escape.
Who did Edah think she was going to meet when she went out that Saturday?
Who did the man say he was?
How did he know all about Edah?
Why did she get into the stranger’s car?
Is it any safer to go and meet a girl who is a complete stranger, or a boy you have never met?
We hear about bad people pretending to be both girls and boys. It is not safe for a child to go alone to meet strangers.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to make friends on a site such as Facebook?
What advice do you get from school?
Discuss these points and more about internet safety with your teachers and parents or youth leaders.
If you don’t really understand this story and have no one to discuss it with please read on.
This story started with a girl locked in a room by a man who had pretended to be a girl on the Internet. He had groomed Edah on Facebook. That means he deceived her and made her feel safe and liked by a new friend. Then he pretended to be the father of that so called ‘friend’, Jackie. Jackie actually did not exist. In that way he tricked Edah into meeting him and going with him in his car.
Teachers: Any helpful additions to my questions or remarks here would be welcome. Thank you. This story came about because a very vulnerable special needs student of mine was led to believe that a girl on Facebook, whom he had never met ‘loved him’ and he was planning to meet her.