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How safe are your children? Snared by Paul Cunningham

Writing.ie | Member Blog


Paul Cunningham

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‘The subject matter of your book makes me uncomfortable.’ ‘It’s too dark.’ ‘We will not publish this book based on your synopsis.’ ‘Please seek representation from another agent.’ An example of just some of the rejections I have received while pitching my book ‘Snared’ to various agents and publishers throughout Ireland and the U.K. As a writer you understand that rejection is part of the process. But all of the above rejections were sent to me before I sent a single word of my book to the agents/publishers.
Yes, my book attempts to deal with a taboo subject matter. But who else will? My book explores the issue of online grooming. An emergence which has, unfortunately, become commonplace in recent years. Paedophiles were once, stereotypically, seen as dirty old men, loners, societies outcasts, but nowadays paedophiles hide behind computer screens.
Throughout my research for Snared, I have encountered hunting videos of alleged paedophiles from the age of eighteen to ninety-two. An eighteen-year-old trainee policeman in England arrived at a train station late at night to meet what he believed to be an eleven-year-old girl. He wore his uniform under civilian clothes in an attempt to make the child feel at ease.
In broad daylight, a ninety-two-year-old man was waiting to meet who he believed to be a thirteen-year-old girl. Thankfully, in both cases, the children both men were talking to were fake or decoy accounts set up by paedophile hunting groups to lure online groomers into a meeting, and report the incident to police.
The hunting videos showcase a number of ways paedophiles use to contact children (or decoy profiles who they believe to be children). Some are very blatant and will barrage their target with text messages, phone calls, and voice mails. Others adopt a more cunning or cautious approach.
Think back to when a new donut brand entered the Irish market, (for the purpose of this example I will call the company ‘Brand X Donuts’). People queued for hours, on foot and in their cars, to try and get their hands on a brand new product that everyone was talking about. To the average consumer, it was a phase that would die out eventually. To a paedophile, it presented an opportunity.
With a photo of the Brand X Donuts logo, anyone could easily imitate the brand and create a social media profile in their name. Befriending young, impressionable children online would become much easier. ‘Congratulations, you have been selected to sample a dozen FREE donuts. All you have to do is text this number… to arrange delivery.’ And there it is, a way in to get a child’s phone number, email address, home address or any information in an attempt to gain their trust.
I have read stories of paedophiles disguising themselves as burger, pizza, fried chicken and soft drink brands. Football clubs, pop-stars and social media influencers the list it appears is endless. But unfortunately, it’s not the only method online groomers use to contact minors.
Online gaming is another source where paedophiles have manipulated children into doing things they don’t fully understand. For this example, lets say it was a soccer game the child was playing online. A paedophile challenged a child to a match. After a few games, the paedophile upped the stakes. The loser of the next match had to send a photo to the winner without a shirt on.
The child lost the match and obliged by sending the desired photo, believing it to be harmless fun. Before long the stakes were increased again, this time the loser sent a photo of their privates. The child lost but sensed something was wrong, and refused to send the photo.
The paedophile then demanded the photo, threatening the child that if he didn’t oblige, the shirtless photograph the child originally sent would be passed on to the child’s parents. They, of course, would be furious and take the child’s computer console away. Not wanting to have his console confiscated, the child sent the picture. The story didn’t end there and the child was blackmailed into sending a number of photographs to the offender. It was only when the victim’s parents noticed a severe change in their child’s overall demeanour that they investigated the source and eventually found out the truth. The paedophile in that particular case was twenty-two.
I am not a father so don’t fully understand what, if anything, is being taught to schoolchildren in the modern classroom. I do feel that more should be done to educate future generations about the dangers of online grooming. Give children the tools they need to identify when they might be in danger, and more importantly, what to do if they are approached.
It’s easy to look back on past generations and pinpoint the failings in cases of sexual abuse. Victims were too petrified to speak up, afraid that no-one would believe them. Looking forward, what has changed? Are we doomed to repeat the failings of the past simply because we, as adults, are too uncomfortable to discuss a ‘taboo’ issue?
We need to wake up and deal with the issues of paedophilia head on. Educate future generations so they can identify when they may be in danger. Let them know that if they report any concerns, no matter how trivial, they will be taken seriously and everything will be done to try and track down any potential predator. If Snared plays a minor role in this, it will have done its job.

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