Christchurch high school students targeted by online sexual predator

A person used various social media platforms including Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook to befriend at least 321 young ...
CARYS MONTEATH/FAIRFAX NZ

A person used various social media platforms including Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook to befriend at least 321 young people.

An online predator posing as a teenage girl has lured boys as young as 13 into sending them nude pictures online.

Police launched an investigation after at least two boys sent nude photos to the imposter, going by the name of Ella.

The fake profile was for a teenage girl who attended Christchurch Girls' High School (CGHS).

Across various social media platforms including Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook, "Ella" befriended at least 321 young people, with many attending Canterbury schools, NZME reported.

After becoming online friends, the person would send sexually explicit videos and photos to the boys, asking them to reciprocate.

A police spokesperson said their information showed the person was based in New Zealand and inquiries to identify them were ongoing.

CGHS principal Pauline Duthie said police called her a few months ago and she confirmed no girl by the name given to them by police attended the school.

Online safety courses by cyber expert John Parsons were held at the school about how to be "digitally responsible and digitally aware".

"We teach them how good social media can be, and how insidious it can also be," Duthie said.

She was aware of several students who shared "inappropriate images" between friends, some of which were shared more widely.

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Each of the situations of image sharing involved "real people, from one friend to another", rather than a fake social media profile.

"We encourage our girls to think about the photographs they are taking and to think about what they are posting.

"When you have sports people and celebrities out there posting, there is a tendency among young people to think that this is a way to be accepted and to belong."

Online Child Exploitation Agency of New Zealand (OCEANZ) staff contacted Facebook last month and the multiple social accounts operated by the person were closed.

The head of one Christchurch school, where a boy targeted by the predator was a student, said they were working with the student and their family, NZME reported.

"Our focus has been on providing appropriate support for the student and they have been offered counselling," the school said.

"There is an extensive programme in place working with students across different year levels around 'protecting and respecting' themselves online."

School counsellor and New Zealand Association of Counsellors' (NZAC) spokeswoman Sarah Maindonald​ said with a variety of online social networks available, "people can be incredibly convincing".

"The internet is so available now and kids have phones, so it's hard for parents and for schools to keep track of them all the time," she said.

Cyber safety programmes in schools needed to "get over our concerns about what we talk about at school", particularly grooming behaviour.

"They need to catch up with the risk of online sexually-predative behaviour," Duthie said.

"We need to educate our kids about the risks, which could include the request for nude pictures.

"Kids may not have even considered that might be something that could happen."

 - Stuff

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