Online Predators

ABC13 News ran a story this week about a child predator putting up an ad on Craigslist to lure teenage girls. A Harris County Precinct 4 constable posing as a 14-year old girl nabbed the man when he requested the constable to send him “naughty pics” and solicited sex. The constable tracked the man to his phone via an IP address distributed from his company’s WIFI network. Authorities say this is a disturbing trend that’s growing exponentially – targeting young girls online. So I did a little research.

InternetSafety101.org says that “Often, we have an image of sexual predators lurking around school playgrounds or hiding behind bushes scoping out their potential victims, but the reality is that today’s sexual predators search for victims while hiding behind a computer screen, taking advantage of the anonymity the Internet offers.”

NetSmartz.org says, “Although the Internet did not create child predators, it has significantly increased the opportunities predators have to meet victims while minimizing detection.”

InternetSafety101.org published these 2010 statistics from the Journal of Adolescent Health:

  • Only 18% of youth use chat rooms, however, the majority of Internet-initiated sex crimes against children are initiated in chat rooms.
  • In 82% of online sex crimes against minors, the offender used the victim’s social networking site to gain information about the victim’s likes and dislikes.
  • 65% of online sex offenders used the victim’s social networking site to gain home and school information about the victim.
  • 26% of online sex offenders used the victim’s social networking site to gain information about the victim’s whereabouts at a specific time.

Microsoft advises that parents can help protect their kids by knowing the risks related to online communication and being involved in their kids’ Internet activities. The company points out that online predators:

  • Find kids through social networking, blogs, chat rooms, instant messaging, email, discussion boards, and other websites.
  • Seduce their targets through attention, affection, kindness, and even gifts.
  • Know the latest music and hobbies likely to interest kids.
  • Listen to and sympathize with kids’ problems.
  • Try to ease young people’s inhibitions by gradually introducing sexual content into their conversations or by showing them sexually explicit material.
  • Might also evaluate the kids they meet online for future face-to-face contact.

So how can your kids reduce the risk of being victimized? Precautions that kids can take, include:

  • Never downloading images from an unknown source.
  • Using email filters.
  • Telling an adult immediately if anything that happens online makes them feel uncomfortable or frightened.
  • Choosing a gender-neutral screen name that doesn’t contain sexually suggestive words or reveal personal information.
  • Never revealing personal information about themselves (including age and gender) or information about their family to anyone online and not filling out online personal profiles.
  • Stopping any email communication, instant messaging conversations, or chats if anyone starts to ask questions that are too personal or sexually suggestive.
  • Posting the family online agreement near the computer to remind them to protect their privacy on the Internet.

If your child is being targeted, the FBI advises:

  • Contact your local police. Save any documentation including email addresses, website addresses, and chat logs to share with the police.
  • Check your computer for pornographic files or any type of sexual communication—these are often warning signs.
  • Monitor your child’s access to all live electronic communications, such as chat rooms, instant messaging, and email.

For more information, see the FBI’s publication: A Parent’s Guide to Internet Safety.

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