This has happened despite the fact that last year, Slovak police registered only five cases of online sexual harassment and managed to conclude just a single case.
Slovak website, Pokec, with dozens of thousands of users on a daily basis, operates as a chat space and dating site in one. Profiles on Pokec are not verified, no ID card or photo is needed to register. Data can be fictitious.
Journalists from Sme created a profile of a girl aged 12 from Bratislava, with the user-name ariadna256. She also had a photo-album but it was locked and accessible only to selected users. Between February 10 and 15, a total of 62 people showed interest in her profile; of those, 57 were boys or men, 12 alleged to be over 20 with 21 choosing not to reveal their age. In total 46 people addressed Ariadna through private messages, six names were female. There were 16 claiming to be aged under 16 and three of them were girls. Ariadna did not actively write to anyone, nor did she address any person on the website.
“She” received several outright obscene offers, which, however, stopped when she did not react. Any user can block unwanted and harassing contacts but this does not mean the harasser cannot contact others immediately after being turned down.
Although there are specific sections created by Pokec for sexual discussions, many users do not respect this. When journalists tried to filter the contacts and offers by age of the user, the upper limit skipped automatically to 18 years, not allowing a younger age.
State does not see online harassment of children
The State seems to be helpless where harassment of children on the internet is concerned. While NGOs and experts consider this to be quite a widespread phenomenon, police last year completed the investigation of just one such crime out of the five that were reported. At the beginning of 2017, one case was concluded, too, police spokesperson Denisa Baloghová said for Sme. This is the so-called grooming, i.e. the effort to create a false trust in a person by the child, and to prepare them for a rendezvous, the goal of which is sexual abuse. The crime is punishable by three to five years in prison.
“Harassment is not defined in the law as separate crime,” Baloghová explained the reasons why police are unable to describe other forms of internet child harassment.
Children are ashamed, keep silent
Another reason for the low prosecution statistics is also the children’s fear of reporting the harassment they face, says expert on criminalist informatics and forensic expert Eduard Jenčo. “Children feel guilty and are ashamed of this,” he explains. “It is a psychological problem as well.”
The free phone helpline pomoc.sk has reported 33 cases of cyber-bullying and 14 cases involving virtual sex. “These involved fictitious offers among children, or sending immoral sites with sexual content,” Miroslav Drobný, president of the eSlovensko association, told Sme. The office of Children’s Ombudswoman Viera Tomanová did not comment for the daily.
Also various websites and internet organisations turn to the police with requests to investigate various online profiles.
“The Pokec service enables people to report profiles, photos, harassment in fast mail as well as public comments in group communication,” product manager of Pokec František Novák said. “In case a user feels harassed, he or she can block the harasser and report this profile to our client support.”
If administrators evaluate that some of the chat users violate the internal rules, they warn the user, block part of their service, or completely block access to the service, Novák added. The website also informs the police of suspicious behaviour.
However, if investigators want specific data, they must have a warrant. Also, anyone can report to the police anonymously. Such reports are offered, for example, via stopline.sk, focusing on all X-rated content with children – from child pornography, child prostitution, and child trafficking. Advice for children on how to behave on the internet or how to react to suspicious messages is offered free of charge on sites like pomoc.sk and prevenciasikanovania.sk.
Police are handicapped by poor language skills
Parents do not have many options when dealing with child harassment on the internet, Jenčo opined, adding that even if they turn to the police, the result depends on how skilled the perpetrators are in IT. Those stupid enough to approach the websites from their home or work computer to procure children have bad luck: e.g. Pokec registers and logs everything, and police can then ask for all data gathered and reveal, thanks to them, from where the user logged on, etc.
Another question is Facebok, Jenčo adds, with it’s a foreign website. Although Facebook offers quick cooperation to state authorities, solving the request in a few days, Slovak police opt for another, more complicated procedure.
As they are usually inept from a digital and language point of view, they send their request in Slovak to a prosecutor, who then sends it to the Prosecutor General’s Office, which then orders an official translation. Then, it sends the translation to the Justice Ministry which sends the request to the USA – where the Prosecutor General is addressed again. Then he turns over the request to the US federal investigation bodies which address Facebook and ask for due data.
When Facebook gives the data, the whole procedure is repeated, the opposite way. The average time of obtaining data is between three and six years, Jenčo explained.
On the other hand, some police, e.g. the Czechs – trained in how to get data from Google or Facebook and with a knowledge of English – turn directly to the website, fill in the request through a form, sign with an authorised electronic signature, and get the answer in digital form within three days.
The situation gets more complex, however, when the harassers are IT experienced and use foreign Virtual Private Networks – which create the problem of jurisdiction. If the VPN is in Guatemala, the police have no option to act because Guatemala does not cooperate with Slovakia, and even if it cooperated, most VPN providers do not keep logs.
Child harassment is frequent in Slovakia, Jenčo sums up, but rarely prosecuted. Most children do not admit it – not even to parents or other adults. They usually feel guilty and ashamed, like raped women who are embarrassed to report the crime.