A young Merseyside lawyer whose experience of online sexual exploitation inspired a well-known education video is to address a national conference on child safety.
Rhiannon McDonald was aged just 13 when she was duped into sharing personal information via Instant Messenger, leading to her being contacted in real life and ultimately hurt. She has never spoken publicly about her experience, but it was used anonymously as the basis for Jenny’s Story, a hard-hitting film for secondary school pupils that was launched in 2005 and is still used widely today in schools across the UK to raise awareness of sexual exploitation online.
Now aged 28 and working as a paralegal at Morecrofts Solicitors in Liverpool, Rhiannon has decided to waive her right to anonymity in the hope of inspiring more young victims to speak out. She will host a workshop at The Marie Collins Foundation International Conference, which takes place at the BT Tower in London this today
Rhiannon said: “My story was unique to me and yet all too common. I was aware of the need to be careful online and I thought I wasn’t giving away any personal information, by the time I realised it was out of control, it was already too late.
“I was too embarrassed and frightened to tell anyone what I’d done. I tried to block the perpetrator, but he started calling me and leaving threatening messages. Our family happened to move house, which meant he could no longer find me, and it was only when the police later discovered my information on his computer that I was forced to tell people what had happened. Without that, I may never have told anyone.
“It will be very daunting for me to finally speak out about what happened to me as a teenager, but I also know it will be worthwhile if it encourages more young people to come forward and share their own experiences of online grooming and exploitation.
“With so many different devices and social media channels available today, online sexual exploitation of children and young people remains a critical issue across our society. It’s important therefore that we can bring together professionals from a range of backgrounds and perspectives.
“Charities such as ChildNet and The Marie Collins Foundation do some excellent work and I would urge any young person affected by these issues to get in touch with them.”