EDUCATING parents about internet safety is the top priority of a major city-wide campaign launched this week to protect children from cyber-bullies and sex predators.
Primary schools that are reporting up to six cases of online harrassment and grooming a year are taking centre stage in the Portsmouth Safeguarding Children Board’s Safety Online initiative.
The campaign, which is backed by schools, police and Portsmouth City Council, will feature roadshows, adult training courses and school competitions to raise awareness about the perils of the internet.
Annie Gunthorpe, head of Westover Primary, said: ‘Our parents are not fully aware of the dangers of these social networking sites.
‘We have children as young as six joining Facebook and putting lots of personal information online, making it very easy for strangers to track them down.’
She added: ‘Five years ago there were no (online) incidents in primary schools, but in the last 12 months we’ve seen about five or six in a school year.
‘We’re anticipating that will increase.’
Detective Chief Inspector John Geden, who heads Hampshire police’s child abuse investigation unit, confirmed there had been an increase in child grooming incidents.
He said: ‘Many of the cases we see where adult offenders abuse a child outside the family circle have used the internet as a means to contact their victim.’
Jimmy Doyle, chairman of Portsmouth Safeguarding Children Board, added: ‘The internet is a great way for children to learn and have fun – but it is vital they stay safe.’
The campaign follows reports earlier this year of hundreds of pupils across the area posting vile sexual comments on Facebook sites.
· The first Safety Online event is a free drop-in session tomorrow in Southsea Library from 11am until 2pm.