Online sex ‘grooming’ law lacks teeth

Sweden's 'anti-grooming' law, which makes it illegal for adults to contact children online for sexual purposes has had a disappointing start. Despite surveys indicating half of Swedish girls under 15 have received online sexual advances, the law has not led to any convictions since entering into force six months ago.

Since July 1st 2009, any adult in Sweden contacting a child under 15-years of age over the internet with a view to grooming them for sex, can face sentences of up to a year in jail. However the law has been slow to take effect with only a hundred suspected cases reported so far.

“The low number of cases may result from the fact that the law is not that widely known,” David Lagerlöf, a spokesperson for ECPAT, an international charity working to stop the sexual exploitation of children, told the TT news agency.

“It can also be a problem for young people to speak about this with adults. Many of them are certainly afraid to tell their parents about dirty old men on the internet in case their reaction is to just pull out the plug.”

According to Lagerlöf, many parents have little knowledge of computers and the internet which makes it difficult for them to understand the potential threat from sexual predators.

“In many cases they need to sit down with their children and get a tour though cyberspace to see what their internet world looks like.”

An Ungdomsbarometer (‘Youth barometer’) survey earlier this month found that more than half of teenage girls in Sweden have been approached for sexual reasons on the internet. While greater vigilance among parents can help to reduce the threat from online paedophiles, some critics of the new law believe it lacks teeth.

Detective Björn Sellström, at the National Criminal Investigative Department, says that the police do not have the right powers to investigate suspects. Sellström says those found guilty will most likely get off with fines as maximum sentances are rarely issued by Swedish courts.

“The police do not have the power to track internet accounts and IP addresses in cases where the likely outcome is a fine.”

“We are waiting with bated breath for the first convictions. But we are worried that the punishment is too low.”

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