Years from now, when history writes the chapter entitled “the digital age”, will it celebrate the immense benefits that technology has delivered and the great human progress that followed? Or, will it be a requiem of regret for the loss of so many young people?
If we have never been a victim of online crime or abuse, or know someone who has been, it is hard to relate those who have been exploited in this way. But “it becomes real when you meet a mother whose daughter was so distraught from incessant cyberbullying that she committed suicide. It becomes real when you are sitting with parents of a pre-schooler who was abducted and murdered by a paedophile who just hours before was looking at child sexual abuse images freely accessible online. It becomes real when you meet a mother whose teenage son, the same age as your own child, fell under the spell of the so-called Islamic State online, travelled to Syria to fight and was killed. It becomes real when you meet with parents whose daughter, after being exposed to online self-harm groups, is in hospital again because she can’t stop hurting herself.” (Shields 2017)
We can be web utopians believing that connected humanity can create a better society. And there truly are wonderful things that the Internet can do, but what about the things that it can undo? The Internet has fundamentally transformed our young people in just one generation. We have the first generation of digital natives who feel comfortable swiping objects on their tablets and smartphones. Smartphones, social media and communications apps are one size fits all. Accordingly, there is no specific provision for the unique needs of young people who are not ready to take on the responsibilities of their actions or to understand the realities of the human condition they are exposed to when connected to the Internet. Today young people are groomed for sexual abuse online by people they have never met and would never have come in contact with if it were not for the internet. They are coerced into producing sexually explicit images of themselves. Offenders connect with other offenders online. They share their tactics, strategies and their devastating acts of abuse. They pay to watch the live-streaming of children being sexually abused all over the world using anonymous access and cryto-currency mechanisms to obfuscate their identities and crimes.
Though the problems are immense progress can be made, but this may require a new kind of thinking, a new approach. There are no true parallels in history. The progress we make together in a collaborative way as academics, teachers, law enforcement officers, health care workers, and students will determine the future of over one billion young people who suffer abuse and violence in their everyday lives. The symposium March 28-29th at Regis College is one small step in raising awareness of these issues and asking how can we assist in this new approach. Our keynote speakers are world renowned in their commitment to the dignity of young people today: Fr Hans Zollner SJ from Rome and Professor Elizabeth Letourneau from the USA. Our workshop leaders are local figures: Professor Faye Mishna Dean of Social Work at UofT; Fr Thomas Rosica CSB CEO of Salt and Light TV; Fr Joseph Schner SJ faculty member at Regis College and members of local law enforcement personnel. Together with YOU we look forward to an informative, participative and forward looking symposium.
For media inquiries, please contact Rachel Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Registration for this event will open soon! Stay tuned for more details.