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Following is a reply by the Acting Secretary for Security, Mr John Lee, to a question by the Dr Hon Lau Wong-fat in the Legislative Council today (February 6):
Making acquaintances on the Internet has become increasingly common. It has been reported that there is an increasing number of lawbreakers who made female acquaintances (with quite a number of them being underage girls) through social networking websites, then swindled and threatened them, and even sexually assaulted them. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) of the number of reports received by the Police on the aforesaid categories of crimes in the past five years, as well as the number of female victims in such crimes and their age distribution;
(b) of the respective numbers of people who were arrested, prosecuted and convicted for such crimes as well as the penalties imposed on those convicted in the past five years; and
(c) whether the authorities will launch publicity of a larger scale to remind females to guard against various traps when making acquaintances on the Internet; if they will not, of the reasons for that?
(a) & (b) Internet use has become increasingly prevalent among youngsters and children. Not only do they stay connected with persons whom they know via e-mails, social networking websites and messaging software, but they also make acquaintances through these channels. In recent years, there are criminals who, on the disguise of making friends on the Internet, have committed offences including of rape, indecent assault, criminal intimidation or deception on victims.
The number of rape, indecent assault, criminal intimidation and deception cases between 2008 and 2012 are at Table 1 of Annex. The number of cases in which female victims who met the offenders through the Internet are at Table 2 of Annex. However, the Police have not maintained figures of arrests, prosecutions and convictions of these cases.
As seen from the figures at Annex, victims of sexual assault who met the offenders through the Internet are mostly underage girls. We have noticed that the modus operandi of this type of case is multifarious. For instance, a young girl, being misled by an online model recruitment advertisement, was forced to take nude photos and then indecently assaulted by the offender during their meeting. There was also a young girl lured by an Internet acquaintance to provide sex service, from which the acquaintance enjoyed a commission as profit. There was even a case in which a young girl mistook that her male web friend was a female doctor and sent him her nude photos for diagnosis and treatment. Subsequently, the man forced the victim to have sexual intercourse with him by threatening public release of such photos. There was also a case in that during an online chat, a woman was asked to be in the nude and was subsequently blackmailed.
(c) To tackle the problem of youngsters and children being lured and sexually assaulted by Internet acquaintances, various departments have taken a wide range of publicity and preventive measures.
Hong Kong Police Force
The Police are very concerned about sex crimes arising from making acquaintances on the Internet, particularly cases in which underage girls have become crime targets. In addition to vehemently combating such crimes through investigation and prosecution, the Police have stepped up their efforts to educate young people on how to protect themselves from sex crimes.
To augment public knowledge and awareness of Internet crimes, including sex crimes and deception, the Police Public Relations Branch has presented several situation programmes on “Police Magazine” about social networking traps and online deception. Furthermore, television announcements, including those titled “Beware of Online Deception”, “Be Vigilant against Internet crime” and “Watch Out for Computer Crime”, were produced for broadcast on TV and websites. The Police have also been disseminating messages on personal safety and prevention of sexual assault via major websites. On another front, the Fight Crime Committee has adopted “Guard against Sexual Assault” as one of the themes in the 2012-13 fight crime publicity campaign, with the aim of stepping up publicity on sexual assault prevention.
Moreover, School Liaison Officers (SLOs) of the Police have actively conveyed proper sex concepts to primary and secondary school students, enhanced their knowledge of sex crimes and raised their self-protection awareness and skills. In addition to display of banners and distribution of publicity materials at schools in Hong Kong and places of interest to raise awareness on the importance of personal safety, talks have been held at schools by the SLOs for teachers and social workers to enhance their knowledge in this area. In 2012, the SLOs, in collaboration with various Crime Prevention Units, organised more than 680 talks and seminars on sex crimes at schools in various districts, attracting the participation of a total of about 190,000 primary and secondary school students. For the 2011/2012 and 2012/2013 school years, the Police have conducted activities for over 1,000 primary and secondary schools in Hong Kong, using “Don’t Trust people in the Cyber World Be Vigilant when meeting New Friends” as the slogan to disseminate the message of staying alert to internet activities to students, and remind them to beware of making friends with unruly elements.
On education, the Education Bureau (EDB) implements sex education through the school curriculum and diversified learning activities, with the aim to help students develop positive values and attitudes, learn to protect themselves, manage cyber-friendship and be aware of potential risks of cyber-sex traps and other potential risks.
To facilitate the promotion of sex education in schools, EDB forges partnership with different organisations and professionals to organise professional development programmes for teachers, and to develop websites and internet learning and teaching resources on different topics for school reference.
Social Welfare Department
In addition, one of the focus of Social Welfare Department’s (SWD) publicity campaign for 2012-13 is the prevention of children and youth sexual abuse. To this end, the SWD launched a short-film cum storyboard creation competition on the Internet from September to December 2012 to prevent them from falling into sexual abuse pitfalls through enhancing their awareness on self-protection and advising them to seek assistance when necessary.
Notwithstanding that various departments have actively engaged in publicity and education of the prevention and combat of Internet crimes, it remains that the most crucial point is youngsters’ awareness of crime prevention and self-protection. I earnestly urge our young people to stay very alert when making acquaintances through the Internet or social media, and should not meet strangers alone. Apart from the risk of sexual assault, there might be chances of monetary loss, including deception and robbery, or even risk of personal safety. I also hope that parents will have more communication with their children, help them to build good and proper values, and earnestly discuss with them the points to note when making friends online, in a bid to prevent their children from being fallen victim to crimes in relation to social networking on the Internet.