With my crime writer’s hat firmly on, I hereby confess to committing the following deeds in the name of book research:
- Sampling every cocktail in a holiday resort in Fiji;
- Eating Mopani Worms;
- Posing as a sex escort in an initial interview (ONLY!) at an escort agency;
- Going undercover to chat to men online about underage sex.
Ok, about that last one. My novella, "Witch Hunts on the Internet", published earlier this year by Echelon Press in USA, was inspired by several news-breaking stories about the dangers of online dating, particularly for teenagers. Some of them sounded so far-fetched, I decided to pose as a 15-year old on the Internet and see for myself.
I practiced the lingo and the acronyms, I photo-shopped my face until it looked decades younger and I went chatting. Sure enough, within hours I had a following of men, ranging from teenagers to those admitting to be “a bit older”.
A bit of flirting is all I did, and, like everything in cyberspace, I’m not even sure it was real. Did I speak to men who were hoping to get lucky with an underage girl, or men who were just lonely and bored, or fellow writers trying to add realism to their books?
It gets even better. In one of the articles I’ve read, a family man was arrested when he went to a motel to meet a teenage girl he chatted up online... only the girl didn’t really exist, her alias was used by a covert police operation. And if you think of using it in your book, don’t bother. I already have.
So, how real is the Stranger-Danger on the Internet? Are most older men chatting to teenagers undercover cops? I don’t know. Googling the statistics, however, I discovered that only 2% of child abuse is a result of an online activity. The remaining 98% of crimes against children are committed by people they know: family, friends, teachers.
If it were not so distressing, I could almost say that there is a book in it.
By Yvonne Eve Walus
Author of Witch Hunts on the Internet (Echelon Press, 2009)