opinion

This is why I don't let my kids talk to strangers

My son has been chatting to a grown man who lives near us. They talk over the back fence. When Philip first told me about their conversations I freaked. He thought I was nuts.

"But we KNOW him Mum," he said.

"No we don't. We know hardly anything about him."

I told Philip, 9, he wasn't allowed to talk to anyone who wasn't close family unless either Mum or Dad were there with him. Philip was so confused by my concern. I tried not to be too scary during our conversation because the last thing I wanted to happen was for Philip to keep talking to people like this and not tell me.

I also need him to be safe and aware. It's a really difficult balancing act.

My heart was in my mouth when I heard that 348 people have been arrested as part of a global child pornography ring operating out of Canada. 65 of these low-lives are Australian. They were arrested in July and August of this year and included:

TEACHERS

COACHES

A PRIEST

A FORMER PRIEST

FOSTER CARERS

DOCTORS

Tell me you aren't as chilled by this list as I am.

That means that people close to your children, people who are meant to be responsible and caring, could be preying on them. THIS is why I am worried, Philip. There is danger everywhere. I am trying to protect you son. You don't know how dangerous some people can be?

These criminals have been charged with a range of offenses including accessing, possessing, PRODUCING and distributing child exploitation material. At least, that's what they have been arrested for. Who knows what else they have done. They are aged between 25 and 72.

The three year operation began in Canada, when Toronto police started monitoring a company called Azovfilms.com and it's owner Brian Way. Suspicious, they began tracking it's users. They called it Project Spade. They found people accessing the site from many countries including Australia. They contacted the Australian Federal Police who quickly set up Operation Thunderer.

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Nine of the Australians arrested are from NSW, 33 from Queensland, 12 from South Australia and five from Western Australia and Victoria. One was from the ACT.

A 42-year-old school teacher from Cowra was arrested and another teacher was arrested at Emu Plains.

A 57-year-old Catholic priest was arrested in The Rocks. A retired Catholic priest was arrested at Lake Haven.

Police spokeswoman Cath Allen said Victoria police arrested one of the five Victorians involved. "We arrested a 50-year-old man from St Kilda, and charged him with possessing, accessing and using a carriage service for child exploitation material as part of the operation."

The list goes on and on.

"Of concern to the investigators was the number of people who have close contact with children," Inspector Joanna Beaven-Desjardins, head of Toronto's Sex Crimes Unit, said. "The arrests included 40 school teachers, nine doctors and nurses, 32 people who volunteered with children, six law enforcement personnel, nine pastors or priests, and three foster parents."

The investigation ended up working with about 30 police forces in Australia, Spain, Ireland, Greece, South Africa, Hong Kong, Mexico, Norway and the US, among others. 386 children have been rescued from dangerous situations.

The operation is a huge success and a hard lesson for parents around the world. Stranger Danger isn't enough. Predators are closer than you think.

So, am I being paranoid, when I tell my children to be careful, even of people they know? The answer is a resounding NO.

The bottom line is that the Stranger Danger message has to be expanded. If we teach children that strangers can be dangerous but everyone else in their lives is safe, we're misinforming them. We need to explain that they need to beware all the time, to discuss situations, to teach them what to do when confronted with situations involving strangers and those known to them.

The only way we're going to stop this hideous problem is to teach our children to speak up, and to protect themselves.

Have you spoken to your children about protecting themselves? What did you say?