Girl, 13, seeking study buddy online asked to be sex buddy
Those getting indecent proposals from sexual predators must take care not to reveal personal info: Experts
A 13-year-old girl seeking a study buddy on an online platform was propositioned by men wanting to be her sex buddy.
The teenager told The New Paper that several men asked her if she was open to having casual sex, but she told them she was not interested and blocked those who persisted.
"I feel disgusted and tell my friends about the messages," she added.
Two other girls said they also received indecent proposals when they went on Carousell or Reddit to look for study buddies.
A check showed it was not unusual for secondary and university students to go to such sites in search of peers willing to meet up and study together.
Media Literacy Council member Anita Low-Lim said that looking for friends online poses some risks.
The senior director at Touch Community Services said it is often hard to identify an online sexual predator who may be posing as a student with similar interests as his prey.
She said: "What may start as a harmless conversation about study habits or hobbies can lead to the predator making inappropriate requests, like asking to be 'friends with benefits' or requesting indecent pictures."
Mrs Low-Lim also noted that those seeking study buddies may inadvertently reveal personal information or their emotional needs that could then be used against them.
Madam Choy Wai Yin, director of guidance at the student development curriculum division at the Ministry of Education, said schools do make students aware of the dangers of seeking study buddies online.
She said: "The online world is very much a part of our students' daily lives and experiences, with the prevalence of social media and mobile devices.
"There is thus a need to raise awareness among students of the possible risks of interacting with and meeting strangers both online and offline."
As part of character and citizenship education (CCE), students learn about personal and cyber safety, and how to protect themselves from sexual exploitation and abuse.
Lesson scenarios have been updated in recent years to include online risks such as the dangers of social networking and sexual grooming.
Madam Choy said the revised CCE curriculum for 2021 will teach students to recognise cyber risks, identify negative influences and inappropriate websites, among other things.
Talk about online threats with kids
The study buddy incidents show why parents need to constantly communicate with their children so they are aware of their activities and whereabouts, said Madam Jess Tan, 52, a mother of two teenagers.
The housewife added: "The dangers of the Internet should be discussed at length at dinner tables, such as the risks involved when their children meet online acquaintances and the existence of predators."
Clinical psychologist Carol Balhetchet said: "Predators are always scouring for victims. If you spend much time online and are young and vulnerable, you could easily become a victim."
As those seeking friends online tend to be socially awkward, it is important that parents teach them some social skills, said Dr Balhetchet.
Parents should create an environment where their children feel safe to confide in them if they encounter an unwanted approach online, she added.
Mrs Anita Low-Lim of the Media Literacy Council said parents must earn their children's trust, as such difficult conversations can quickly go south if they "adopt an authoritarian stance and dictate what their child can or cannot do online". - SAMUEL DEVARAJ
Tips to stay safe
Mrs Anita Low-Lim of the Media Literacy Council advises those seeking study buddies to:
- Avoid revealing personal information to your potential study buddy, such as your full name, e-mail or home address, phone number or school, as they can be used to exploit or harass you.
- Use online platforms that offer protection and user verification to safeguard privacy and personal data.
- Do research on the potential study buddy, such as verifying profiles and contact information, and checking online reviews. You can also ask for a video chat to check out the person.
- Take precautions to ensure you have ready access to help by meeting in a public place. Try not to meet a stranger alone and tell a trusted adult where you are going.