A Derry mother has spoken of her horror after discovering her eight year old daughter was, she believes, being ‘groomed’ by a man in his 30s on a popular internet site.
The interactive site is one of a number online which allows children to create virtual worlds where they can build houses and make new friends.
The local woman - who did not wish to be named in order to protect her child - said it was the quick thinking actions of the child’s older cousin which first alerted her to what was going on.
“My niece told me how it all started off while they were on this website and I was disgusted and terrified,” she said.
“On this site they create figures for themselves and they can choose their hair colour and their clothes and create profiles.
The distraught mother told the ‘Sunday Journal’ that it was only when her niece came forward that her daughter told her everything which had happened.
“She was approached by a man on one of these websites who was much older. He asked my daughter what age she was and she said she was eight? He said they should get married in this virtual world but he asked her to change her profile character to someone with fairer skin because he didn’t like the character she’d created for herself, which was black.
“My niece said they were able to see his age from his profile and that he was 38.
“At this point, he asked my daughter where she lived and she gave him her address.
“When I found this out afterwards I was horrifed, but she’s just an innocent child so she wouldn’t have been thinking about the dangers. It was her older cousin who told her to block this person out at that stage because she suspected something wasn’t right and came to me. I still can’t believe all this has happened.”
The local woman said she’d accessed the site a number of times since trying to track the man down but was unable to.
“I just want to warn parents to be vigilant all the time because these are sites marketed at children but that doesn’t necessarily make them safe,” she added.
Local SDLP Councillor Mark H Durkan, who had been contacted by the mother, echoed her concerns.
“These site is very popular with young children, including my own son, who imitate our use of Facebook.I would urge parents to speak to their kids and warn them of the perils of social network sites. They should not accept friend requests from people they do not know.”