You’ve heard this 1.000 times already. You’ve seen and heard the PSA’s and read all the articles but guess what…they’re all telling you the truth. You absolutely need to be aware of who your children are interacting with online. No slacking, no excuses. In the “old days” predators were the creeps who hung out at school yards. Now these creeps are hanging around chat rooms and social media pretending to be perfectly respectable citizens. The unfortunate fact of the matter is that in too many cases many of these creeps actually are “respectable citizens.” I know, doesn’t compute but it happens. They not only go after girls but also pursue boys. According to the FBI, there are an estimated 50,000 predators online at any given moment, all looking for potential victims.
In a Dept. of Justice Report from 2003:
- 1 in 7 kids, 10 to 17 years old, were sexually solicited online.
- 70% of these solicitations happen on a home computer with the remaining most often happening at a friend’s home.
- 49% of the children surveyed did not tell anyone about being solicited. (main reason given for not telling… “I was afraid they would take my computer away”)
Anymore “online” is a lot more than spending time on the computer. Smart phones, tablets, even video games and even wrist watches are completely connected to the Internet. Parents need to understand that if there is a platform or a technology where communication with children is possible, predators will be right there.
The bad news is sexual predators can / will hide behind a false identity. Many are expert manipulators with skills and experience that can overwhelm your child’s sense of awareness. Predators start with what is referred to as the grooming process. They look for children that have a higher technical skill level than their parents and are emotionally vulnerable. This can be related to personal issues derived from problems at school or home or socialization situations.
They use personal issues to befriend the victim and empathize with them while building a fake friendship and fake trust. If a child demonstrates frustration with parents or teachers at school the predator will play on that to their advantage. In many cases the predator will pose as a child the same age and / or gender. Here is a compressed timeline of Predator Grooming tactics:
- Chat Rooms (based on interest)
- Look for child oriented screen names
- Search through social media profiles
- Strike up a conversation
- Show interest and gain their trust
- Build them up (be their friend)
As I’m sure you’ve already figured out the predator’s ultimate goal is to make personal contact with the intended victim(s). An unsuspecting child makes it easier for the predator by giving out personal information online. This could include; their real name, address, phone number, e-mail address and their school.
Because the Internet is wide open it inadvertently functions as an unwitting tool for the predator. They can access searchable user profiles from Instant Messaging and Chat Rooms. Predators can, and will, examine Social Media profiles for potential victims. Understand that seemingly harmless descriptive statements listed on a profile give predators more ammunition to work with. This could include; school attended, sport played, or even the child’s jersey number. A teen-aged girl innocently posts a picture of her new car in front of her house. To a predator this is a gold mine of information since they now know what the girl’s car looks like, her license plate number, house address, what the house looks like, etc.
Once a predator connects with a victim and gains their trust they frequently send pornographic pictures via an IM session, e-mail or a carelessly monitored social media portal. Sometimes they send gifts through the mail. They might provide a toll free phone number or ship a cell phone to their intended victim. At first glance this sounds like lunacy, but when you think about it this is part of a very sick game plan. The goal is to avoid any record of the phone calls showing up on the parent’s phone bill. If the victim attempts to cut off communication predators will attempt to blackmail the child into continuing the relationship. One method is to convince them they will tell the parents what they have been doing online, etc. If you are even halfway paying attention you ill notice the warning signs, read them, then read them again:
- Your child spends a lot more time than usual online.
- You find porn on the computer.
- Your child receives phone calls, mail, gifts from people you do not know.
- Your child withdraws from normal activity.
- Your child switches screen quickly if you walk up to them while they are online.
- Your child uses other accounts for e-mail or Instant Messaging.
This is ugly stuff. Have a conversation with your kids about the dangers that exist online. Make sure they know to tell you if anyone ever makes them feel uncomfortable. If your children try and put up a front, “Oh, we heard about that in school, I can handle it.” Reinforce the concept that you are there for them, unconditionally. Make sure they understand it is not their fault if a predator connects with them. Definitely help them understand they won’t get in trouble when they let you know. Worst thing you can do is give them a hard way to go on this one. Predators are smart enough and cold enough to employ a divide and conquer strategy.
Definitely help them understand they won’t get in trouble when they let you know. They will need your support and understanding. The good news is predators can be identified and caught by law enforcement officials.
The best way to catch a predator is to cooperate with law enforcement officials, they are here to protect you and your children. Many municipalities have special units designed to catch online child predators and these creatures do get locked up.
You can also report the incident(s) to the website of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children — they have a form for reporting this type of incident called the Cyber Tip Line. They will forward that info to law enforcement officials for investigation. uknowkids.com created an outstanding infographic for Online Predators. Please click the “Infographic” tab at the top of the page. After you look at the infographic please return to the top of the page and click the “Video” tab to watch this excellent video, Protecting Kids from Online Predators. produced by Hartford News 8 – WTNH.
The following Infographic was created by uknowkids.com.
Please return to the top of the page and click the “Video” tab to watch Hartford News 8 – WTNHs excellent video on Protecting Kids from Online Predators.
Protecting Kids from Online Predators, produced by Hartford News 8.