Facebook, internet, iPhone danger, morality issue, murder, parental guiding control, sex offender
In their sites
November 16, 2009
AN EXPERIENCED detective was furious when he spotted a criminal he had arrested years earlier loitering near his eastern suburban home. He grabbed the man and whispered, ''Before I take you to hospital after you seriously injure yourself, you'd better tell me how you found where I live.''
The stalker, who quickly lost interest in any revenge plans, said: ''Your daughters are on Facebook.''
Welcome to the cyber world, where privacy is as outdated as whalebone corsets.
One of Australia's biggest private detective agencies now employs staff in Melbourne and Sydney to troll through Facebook and MySpace sites to search for leads on people who have tried to disappear to avoid mounting debts.
And employers are exploring sites to check the profiles of prospective staff. One university student who has appeared regularly on a reality television program wisely removed a series of pictures showing a different side of his character.
Police are now dealing with the crime backwash generated from surfing the web, and many detectives believe the internet is eroding community standards. The new trends have forced police to set up a specific internet division within the sexual crimes squad.
The team uses undercover tactics to trap men who target teenage girls on chat sites. They have arrested and convicted cyber-stalkers as old as 40 who have tried to procure under-age girls by befriending them through the web.
Police and adolescent developmental experts have found teenage boys and girls are creating false and dangerous images of themselves through online profiles.
One experienced investigator describes it as the ''cult of the self-obsessed''. The detective says police are now starting to deal with teenagers who have grown up with mobile phone cameras and who have taken hundreds of pictures of themselves since they were six or seven years old.
They post online details of their lives, from the mundane to the intimate, with little concern or understanding of the possible consequences.
The investigator says police are routinely finding teenage girls posting provocative comments and photos of themselves on the web. ''We see comments and you wouldn't know if the writer was 13 or 30,'' he says. He says the girls can portray themselves as sexually experienced in a bid to establish an edgy image. ''It is all make-believe but it can create a false image that comes back to bite them.''
One counsellor says girls from an exclusive Melbourne girls school have taken pornographic photos of themselves and posted them to their boyfriends. The pictures have then been forwarded to an unknown number of teenage boys leaving the girls' reputations in tatters.
Detectives are becoming increasingly alarmed at the sexually threatening nature of postings by some teenage males. Police were forced to close down a Facebook site set up to support two young footballers charged with rape after a team trip to Phillip Island. Up to 700 people joined the site that offered support to the accused teenagers, even though the case is yet to be heard in court.
Last week, The Sydney Morning Herald revealed a so-called ''pro-rape'' site, dominated by male students from the University of Sydney's St Paul's College, that had to be shut down.
Mainstream media now check Facebook and similar personal pages to provide information on suspects and victims in high-profile crimes. When Maria Korp was found slowly dying in the boot of a car near the Shrine of Remembrance in February 2005, the media soon exposed her private sex life after her and her husband Joe's profiles were found on a swingers' site.
As she lay in hospital for six months on life support, she was unaware her private sexual preferences had become very public property.
Joe Korp's mistress, Tania Herman, was sentenced to a minimum of nine years' jail for attempted murder. The two lovers had met through the internet.
Herman maintains Korp seduced her with a plan to manipulate her into killing his wife. Korp committed suicide in bizarre circumstances, hanging himself in the family garage after he completed a one-hour video autobiography that he wanted to sell to the media. Even the car his wife was concealed in after she was bashed and strangled was later put up for sale on the internet.
The managing director of one of Australia's largest private investigations firms, Mark Grover, says Facebook is now the major tool used to find people who dodge debts. His company now finds between 30 and 40 bad debtors a week through internet profile sites and social pages.
''It may be the person keeps their head down, but we can find them through their children or friends. They often leave a cyber trail though their social and family connections.''
Grover says there is also a trend for criminals and the mentally disturbed to use the internet to track people they want to stalk. ''If they are technologically savvy, they put all their energy into tracking the people they want to find.''
In one case under investigation, he says a Melbourne man used the internet to identify the home address of a high-profile singer, ''and is turning her life into a misery''.
According to Grover, young people post fantasy material about themselves on their sites unaware it could damage their reputations and harm their employment prospects.
''Most of our staff have nothing to do with these sites because they see the damage that can be done.'' One woman poured out her frustration and dislike for her boss on her Facebook page, having forgotten she had previously added him as a friend. ''She received a message to come in and collect her things after he read it,'' Grover says.
The head of the sexual crimes squad, Detective Inspector Glen Davies, says parents need to spend time discussing rights and responsibilities with their teenage children as the break-up party and schoolie season begins this month.
''Many of the victims and offenders we deal with are just young people who have been caught up in events that have tragic consequences for everyone. Young men should re-acquaint themselves with the concept of respect. Rape is an incredibly serious criminal offence. I cannot overstate this. We meticulously investigate all cases and will bring about charges against those who are found to be offending.''
In Victoria, rape carries a maximum penalty of 25 years. Assault with intent to rape has a penalty of up to 10 years.
Davies says that in some incidents young men fall into a pack mentality and appear to behave out of character or remain passive as they see events spin out of control. ''Young people, particularly men, need to consider their own behaviour and the way they treat women. Often these situations occur in group environments and young men need to take a strong moral stance and speak out to their mates and put a stop to their actions.
''What we are commonly seeing is young girls, who have often been drinking alcohol, being targeted by young men. Quite often these young women are incapable of giving consent and in some instances are being intimidated by large groups of men and taken advantage of because of their vulnerable state.''
He says male teenagers need to comprehend there can never be an excuse for sexual assault and they will be held responsible for their actions.
Melbourne adolescent psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg says there has been a substantial and worrying change in the behaviour of teenagers in recent years. ''There is no doubt that 13 and 14-year-olds are doing things that were not happening 10 or 20 years ago.''
He says many teenagers have unfettered access to the internet and their parents have no idea what their children are doing. ''There has been a fundamental failure in parental responsibility. There is neglect mixed with affluence. The parents have no idea their children are heading into so much trouble. And they are becoming younger and younger.''
He says many children are receiving unrealistic sex education through hard-core websites.
''We know that teenagers of 14 and 15 lack the capacity to predict the consequences of their actions and they fail to understand that what they are posting is not private.''
U-Nome party security expert and former policewoman Naomi Oakley says she routinely sees scantily clad and alcohol-affected girls as young as 14 leave parties without a pre-arranged lift home. ''Parents and these children have to understand the dangers.'' She says the party scene is becoming younger as 13 and 14-year-olds ''see it as the cool thing to do''.
Carr-Gregg says parents need to ''shoulder surf'' to see who their children contact on the web.
Last month, British police charged a convicted sex offender after he allegedly confessed to killing a 17-year-old girl he met through Facebook, where he masqueraded as a teenage boy. Peter Chapman, 32, was charged with the murder of trainee nanny Ashleigh Hall, whose body was found dumped in a ditch on farmland near Durham.
Her mother, Andrea, said, ''Tell your kids to be careful on the internet. Don't trust anybody and don't put your children on Facebook or other sites if they are under-age. We have learnt a terrible lesson. We don't want any other child to be a victim.''