DUBAI // Bullied at school and emotionally vulnerable, the 15-year-old girl perfectly fit the bill for grooming by a devious online predator.
Seeking friendship with fellow Minecraft players she started a relationship with another teenager – who turned out to be a man from Germany.
Her British mother, Alison, has told the story of what happened to her daughter as a warning to parents to be more vigilant about what their children are doing online.
“She is very bright, but also quiet and shy,” said Alison, a single mother of two who works in education.
“Because she didn’t want to conform the bullying started. She thought these people online were her friends but they were actually grooming her.
“I discovered she was chatting to someone who said they would fly to Dubai and take her back to Germany. I was shocked. I didn’t contact Dubai Police as I was worried she would be blamed.
“I didn’t know if she had sent any photographs of herself.”
Alison, who presumed her daughter was studying or playing games when she locked herself away for hours in her bedroom, confronted her and demanded to know who she was talking to online.
“She explained this person was called ‘Flirty’ because he could write English well, but could not speak the language,” the mother said.
Concerned about what was being said, Alison asked to see their conversations.
“He was talking about the game but also things she would not normally talk openly about, such as sexual matters.
“This person was advising her not to go to school, to get a job instead, and that there was no point in GCSEs.”
Alison called UK police for advice and to report the man. Her information led officers to a man in his 20s who was going by the name of “Ghost” in other internet chatrooms.
He had contacted scores of children.
Alison said her daughter became aggressive and her character changed when she had her internet access cut. She was taken out of school and offered counselling.
“I don’t think many parents in Dubai are aware of the danger children can get into on the internet,” Alison said. “You can’t believe how quickly things can go wrong.
“My family’s life was turned upside down. It was horrendous. I just want my daughter to realise she has an amazing life in front of her.”
Barry Lee Cummings, chief awareness officer at UAE online safety group Beat the Cyber Bully, holds online safety workshops in schools and seminars in cooperation with government departments.
“The gap between adults and children is getting bigger,” Mr Cummings said.
“That is worrying as parents don’t always understand what is going on.
“Grooming gangs will identify vulnerable young children who are looking for an outlet. When they talk openly about their personal situation, predators develop a relationship and trust to lure that young person from the online experience into an off-line scenario.
“A lot of children look at social media as a challenge to attract the most followers or likes, and that is exploited by strangers.”