Online grooming prevention: Stop TIME Online

A guest blog post by Rosie Riordan

When I first visited Swansea University to see the venue for the launch of the NSPCC Cymru/Wales and Swansea University Stop TIME Online partnership project, I felt that sort of hushed excitement you get when the lights go down in a theatre and you’re waiting in the wings for your big entrance. After months of planning, designing, re-designing and preparation upon preparation, now all we had to do was actually launch it all.

Stop TIME Online is led by a dedicated team: Ruth Mullineux, Policy Officer at the NSPCC in Cardiff, Professor Nuria Lorenzo-Dus. Principal Investigator on the Online Grooming Communication Research Project at Swansea University, and Laura Broome, also from Swansea University, who studies the trends and patterns of groomers’ online profiles. Their project brief is to provide educational materials for one-to-one or group work between social workers and young people about the dangers of online grooming. It aims to help educate on how online groomers use language to approach and entrap their victims. Professor Lorenzo-Dus’ is the backbone of the project. Her findings show that some paedophiles are such skilful communicators, that they can successfully groom children online within twenty minutes; a disturbing statistic that will always stick with me.

As the Policy and Public Affairs intern, my job is to design the displays for the launch event, capture the spirit and journey of the project in a short two minute video and, of course, write a captivating blog about it all. I joined the team when the project was already on the homestretch and it was an interesting experience. Everybody else had been eating, sleeping and breathing it for months and I was still learning all of their names. After a few days of trying to make sense of it all, of reading up on hundreds of statistics and case studies and introducing myself to the finished designs, I was finally starting to wrap my head around it.

When we first met, I learnt how Nuria, Ruth and Laura had led the project. They’d started by consulting professionals all over Wales, gathering ideas as to how they could present their findings about online grooming to children and young people.

After this, the first concepts for Stop TIME Online were born. It was decided that an activity pack would be designed to help children and young people spot the signs of online grooming. Two acronyms were created: T.I.M.E and S.E.C.O.N.D. The first one described the overall model discovered by Professor Lorenzo-Dus about how online groomers attempt to manipulate a young person through their use of language:

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The S.E.C.O.N.D. acronym focussed more on one key element of this model; how groomers gain the trust of a young person. It originally looked like this:

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These designs were shown at the 2017 “How Safe Are Our Children?” NSPCC annual conference in London. A workshop of eighty attendees gave feedback on the project, which helped to solidify ideas, but the acronym for S.E.C.O.N.D. was still a bit rough around the edges: it needed young people’s voices. So, the project was presented to a group from Evolve Youth Club in Swansea. They responded well to the project and its aims and gave some excellent feedback on the activity pack. Their advice was implemented, helping to make the design more visually and linguistically appealing to young people. The colours were changed, the language was adjusted and a new acronym for S.E.C.O.N.D was crafted:

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All this I learnt in eight short days which made my brain feel like a swarming bee’s hive of activity. The very next day we were scheduled into an all-day Project Team meeting at Swansea University, so I cobbled together thirty seconds of video to show the team and eagerly awaited another day of absorbing information. The meeting was fascinating; I began to realise all the hundreds of details that go into producing such an extensive project as this. Nuria led discussions on things that I hadn’t even contemplated before about the big launch day. What was the capacity of the venue? How many people would be able to attend? In which order would the designated speakers present? Was there to be a hashtag? (You bet! #StopTIMEOnline). We talked about media, press, catering, photography, live streaming and so much more. By the end of the day, my head was spinning with fresh motivation for the video.

My next day in the office, I practically didn’t leave my computer as I ploughed through a first edit of the video. The “journey” which Ruth had asked me to capture, was slowly taking shape and I felt a rush of excitement that I hoped would translate to an audience. I presented it to the office and the feedback I received was supportive and positive.

The week after, with fresh confidence, I made the final touches to the video. A sense of pride washed over me. This project is so important for the safety of children and young people all over the U.K. and it was a fulfilling experience being a part of it. From collating pictures and statistics, to editing the video, designing the displays for the event, re-editing the video, writing this blog and attending meetings with everybody involved, I can now happily share the final product with you! I hope you enjoy it:

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The Science of Voting – Bringing my CHERISH-funded research to the public with Oriel Science

By Dr Matthew Wall  (Senior Lecturer in Politics, Swansea University)

One of the real pleasures of my work is that it affords me a licence to talk to people about politics. To be honest, if I wasn’t making a living from it, I’d be doing it anyway for free. In this post, I’d like to tell you about a brilliant weekend I spent discussing politics and policy with members of the public at the Oriel Science museum space on Prince’s Street in Swansea in the run-up to June’s general election and to explain how my CHERISH project helped me to assemble the technology, materials and personnel to make this happen.

I’ve been involved over the years in developing analysing and refining a technology known as a ‘Voter Advice Application’ (VAA for short). It’s fairly typical of academics to come up with such a cumbersome name for a relatively simple concept. With VAAs, the idea is that you answer a series of questions about the political debates of the day and then you are provided with a ‘match’ output that tells you how well your opinions line up with the policy positions of parties or candidates competing in an election. The concept originated in the Netherlands, and, before coming to Swansea, I spent 18 months as a Marie Curie Fellow working in Amsterdam with Kieskompas – one of the major innovators in creating VAA sites around the world.

As academics do, I thought critically about just what VAAs are designed to do, and how they could be improved. This led me to notice a couple of shortcomings that would lead to my CHERISH-DE project. Firstly, VAAs tend to be taken in isolation, with little in the way of context and, while there is research indicating that many VAA users do discuss their experience, this is not stitched into the process systematically. Secondly, a major problem of trying to engage the public with politics is that VAA users tend to already be politically interested – in a sense we have a problem of ‘preaching to the converted’.

These insights lead me to work with Dr Stephen Lindsay and my contacts at Kieskompas in putting together a successful bid to CHERISH-DE’s ‘Escalator’ fund for a project that would use VAAs to initiate and structure political conversation – and we decided that we should target this at the demographic with the lowest level of political engagement – those under 18. We worked with Kieskompas to create a bespoke website for young people and came up with a series of understandable policy statements that would highlight how the major parties differ in terms of their ideas such as ‘Wales should aim to become an independent country’ or ‘The voting age should be lowered to 16’. We then did a series of interviews with the policy officers of the major parties to ascertain their parties’ stances on these issues. You can see the Welsh parties’ stances on the ‘independent country’ question below.

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Fig. 1 Screenshot from project website – Party positions on the statement that ‘Wales should aim to become and independent country’
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Fig. 2 Our astroturf mats

In order to use this tool to create immersive political discussions, we printed a series of astroturf mats that represent the possible positions on each statement – ranging from ‘Strongly Agree’ to ‘Strongly Disagree’. With these mats laid out in front of the projected image from the website – we invite participants to ‘stand where you stand’ – which brings the concept of a ‘political space’ into being as a tangible reality. We use this as a starting point for a structured political conversation – where people are asked to ‘visit’ others standing in different positions to discuss and explain their stance.  We’ve visited several schools with this project – and I have found funding for a PhD student, James Andrews, who is investigating whether these structured discussions can help to engage young people in politics.

When I heard of the Oriel Science project and with the election coming up, I thought that this would be an ideal opportunity to take my research to the public. The staff and organisers at Oriel were wonderful to work with – they helped me to create a ‘politics corner’ in their space with a projector and the mats as you can see in the image below. We had a steady stream of interested participants – with the election in the air politics was very much on peoples’ minds. We had some lively (but always friendly debates) about the issues on display – and the exhibition received some fantastic feedback, including: “The science of voting is what I enjoyed most about my visit today.”; “The voting workshop was great inside the venue”; “The voting workshop made me consider more things”.

Oriel Science let me bring my work to the people of Swansea right in the heart of the city centre – and ultimately gave me an excuse to do what I like best – talk politics!

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Fig 3. On display – set up and ready to welcome the public at Oriel Science
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Fig 4. ‘Stand where you stand’ – two of our participants enjoy the experience.