This article was published in The Shepparton News on November 27, 2012.
Shepparton police are investigating up to six cases a week involving sexual crimes and bullying perpetrated through Facebook.
In a Shepparton County Court case where a 19-year-old man pleaded guilty to having sex with a 13-year-old girl, Crown prosecutor Andrew Moore said the word ‘‘Facebook’’ now came out in three-quarters of prosecution cases.
The pair communicated via Facebook and their sexual relationship was discovered because of comments the man wrote on the girl’s page.
Shepparton youth liaison officer Leading Senior Constable Matthew Pattison said cases reported to police included people from all walks of life. But he said young people were the most vulnerable to cyberbullying and to predators using the social medium to find victims.
Leading Sen Const Pattison has spent almost all of the past two months at Shepparton’s schools talking to students about the consequences of bad online behaviour.
‘‘Unfortunately, kids don’t see the consequences of tomorrow, let alone 10 or 20 years’ time,’’ he said.
The short-term consequences of cyberbullying can have devastating results.
Leading Sen Const Pattison said a former resident of the region took her own life recently after experiencing online bullying.
He said teenagers were often shocked at the potential punishments for online crimes, as many expected ‘‘a slap on the wrist’’.
Under the recently introduced Brodie’s Law, people found guilty of serious bullying can be jailed for up to 10 years.
Parents needed to monitor their child’s internet use to make sure they were not being bullied or groomed by a predator, Leading Sen Const Pattison said.
‘‘Nearly every kid has a computer in their bedroom — who is in there with them?’’ he said.
He said unwelcome attention online or harrassment needed to be reported.
‘‘It’s not something to hide from,’’ he said.
One of the main points the youth officer tries to communicate to teenagers is nothing is ever really deleted once it goes online.
Teens who send sexually explicit images of themselves, known as sexting, run the risk of those pictures being passed on, while bad behaviour online can carry repercussions later in life.
A Facebook profile is the ‘‘perfect resume’’ for potential employers.
‘‘Facebook these days, it’s like a diary,’’ Leading Sen Const Pattison said.
‘‘It gives you a good insight into what a person thinks and their view of the world.’’