Published: 08 February 2017

Cyber security experts help stage conferences on sexting

The University’s Department of Computer Science has worked with Surrey Police to stage conferences for Surrey school students on the subject of ‘sexting’ – and has now helped launch a special website on global Safer Internet Day.

The SHOuT (Surrey Hear Our Thoughts) youth conferences were aimed at supporting young people by providing a forum to discuss the dangers of social media and sexting (sharing nude and potentially sexual images using apps such as Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram). Research has found that 58 per cent of children in Surrey have received an inappropriate image, 52% have sent one and 21% have felt pressured to send one.

Dr Lee Gillam and Dr Anna Vartapetianceof the Department of Computer Scienceand Surrey Centre for Cyber Security (SCCS) were asked to help Surrey Police with their campaign to make children safer online, based on the University’s expertise in child internet safety, cyber security and data sciences. The SHOuT events were organised in partnership with University spin-out company Securium Ltd, Surrey Youth Support Service, Assessment Consultation Therapy (ACT) and the NSPCC. Taking place on 7, 8 and 9 November 2016 at Epsom Downs Racecourse, Surrey Sports Park and Sandown Racecourse in Esher, each event welcomed up to 100 13 to 17 year old students from a number of invited schools.

"This was a perfect opportunity to interact with young people, share our knowledge, and empower them with the skills that can keep them safe online." - Dr Vartapetiance

As well as giving expert advice on the subject of cyber security and taking part in a conference Question and Answer panel, Surrey’s computer science experts have also helped to analyse the data gathered during the events.

As part of the conferences, students got the chance to watch a dramatization by Sian Williams, a graduate of the University of Surrey, performed by current Surrey undergraduates. This gave them an insight into the kinds of problems that can happen when sexual images are shared and challenged them to think about whether they would be happy if an image was shared with their family, friends of the family or – in the worst case scenario – millions of strangers on the internet.

A wealth of data was gathered from the SHOuT events which has formed the basis of a website, posters and a report aimed at guiding relevant agencies in their work with young people. The website was launched to coincide with international Safer Internet Day on 7 February.

Dr Vartapetiance commented: “Since 2012 we’ve been working on designing systems to protect the vulnerable online with the key focus of detecting and preventing child sexual predators. This was a perfect opportunity to interact with young people, share our knowledge, and empower them with the skills that can keep them safe online.”

“We hope that other organisations – especially those working with young people – will find the outcomes of the conferences helpful in creating a better picture of current attitudes towards sexting and content sharing.”

Read about Surrey’s previous work on sexual predator detection.

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