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Tuesday, 10 July, 2001, 11:24 GMT 12:24 UK
Street star highlights net risks
Computers
Young people are targeted by internet stalkers
A soap actress whose teenage character is duped by an internet stalker is helping to teach children about the dangers of online chatrooms.

Coronation Street star Tina O'Brien, who plays Sarah-Louise Platt, visited pupils at a college in Greater Manchester.

This week her on-screen character is lured into meeting a man in his 30s after he tells her he is a young boy.

Nigel Williams, from the charity Childnet, said: "Since October, every month we have had someone coming to court who has sexually assaulted a child they originally met on the internet.

"That is really quite a lot of children.

Tina O'Brien
Tina O'Brien, who plays Sarah-Louise Platt
"When I was talking to schoolteachers in Oldham, I was told how a couple of pupils had said they were really pleased that they were going to meet someone ... until the teacher intervened.

"I think it is on the increase," he added.

Tina was joined at Hathershaw Technology College by Home Office Minister Beverley Hughes, who is also chairwoman of the government's taskforce Child Protection on the Internet.

In the Coronation Street plot, the isolated teenage mother is persuaded to find friends in internet chatrooms.

She gets to know Gary, who claims he is her own age and is infatuated with her.

Childnet's safety plan
Keep personal details secret
Do not meet a web contact without parental advice
Do not accept e-mails from unknown organisations
Remember that someone may not be who they say they are
Tell someone if something on the net makes you feel uncomfortable

Sarah-Louise's mother Gail becomes increasingly frustrated as she learns that the stalker cannot be arrested.

The makers of the soap consulted Rachel O' Connell, an expert on the problem of internet paedophiles.

She directs the University of Central Lancashire's Cyberspace Research Unit, and has spent time in internet chat rooms posing as a 12-year-old.

Ms O'Connell has devised web sites offering specific advice to young net-surfers.

'Real world'

She said: "On the basis of having investigated stalkers' grooming and luring practices, I know it is essential to highlight these things to kids.

"Every single device that is connected with the internet is allocated an IP address which can be linked to a real world person.

"We teach kids about how to gather other people's IP addresses.

"Paedophiles use web-based chat rooms where the addresses cannot be traced, but this area is being explored.

"When you talk about this to parents they just lose interest or their eyes glaze over.

"When you talk about this to kids they get excited," she added.

See also:

01 Feb 01 | Wales
Boy cleared of net 'rape'
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