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Web predators (Family Safety)

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Family safety

Web predators are individuals who use the web and its associated technologies to find potential victims to which they want to do harm. This problem has been highlighted on the popular television program To Catch a Predator. It is a problem that is not going away, even with the high visibility.

Dangers

According to a survey done in 2005 by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the Justice Department, one in every seven children ages 10 to 17 said they have received a sexual solicitation over the Internet.[1] The FBI has also released a study in which they state that anyone who “frequents chat rooms” on the Internet has a 100% chance of interacting with an Internet predator. According to a 2008 study by the Rochster Institute of Technology, 9% of 7th - 9th graders have accepted an online invitation to meet someone in-person, and 10% have asked someone online to meet them in-person. For those in 10th - 12th grade, the numbers increase to 14%. [2] While not all of these led to a meeting with a predator, they certainly all had the potential for a very poor outcome.

The global nature of the Internet, coupled with the trusting nature of children, make for a deadly combination. Fortunately, there are usually plenty of warning signs–parents just need to know how to find them. Predators will spend quite a bit of time developing a relationship of trust with their victim–sometimes up to several months–before ever meeting them in person. The preferred method of interaction is either chat rooms or instant messaging applications and many of these chat sessions quickly dive into extremely graphic sexual content. A simple review of chat or instant messaging logs, both of which can be monitored relatively easily using current technology, would reveal any items of concern and prevent possible tragedy.

The world is changing and there are very real dangers in the virtual world. We need to be as vigilant in protecting our children from the digital dangers as we are about protecting them from the physical dangers.

What about kid sites?

The Internet is full of predators. A common misconception is that our children are safe if they limit themselves only to websites dedicated to children. Unfortunately, the predators know where the children like to virtually "hang out", and they will be looking for them there. Recall the story of Adam Walsh, the son of John Walsh (host of “America’s Most Wanted”) who was abducted from a mall in Florida and killed in 1981. Adam was in the mall with his parents when he disappeared, abducted in the light of day from a busy store in the mall. In those days, predators would hang out in the malls, or near playgrounds, or near schools. They would be where they knew the children would be.

Today, Internet predators are going to lurk on the sites that attract children. Predators know how to find their victims, –they know where they “hang out” on the Internet, and they know their jargon. The truth is that they don’t have to look very far for their victims. The Internet is really a world-wide playground–anyone can enter, and anyone can hang out anywhere they like. The predators are not going to spend their time on the adult sites; they are going to spend their time where the children are. Some of them have commented, after being caught, that the popularity of the social networking sites has only made their job easier.

The unfortunate truth is that although these reputable sites attempt to verify that only children have access, there is no viable way to determine the true age of the individual sitting at the keyboard. Internet predators are going to go where the kids are and they blend in with the children on that site. So, limiting your children’s Internet access to kids’ sites does not remove them from danger.

The reason predators continue to use this medium is that our children love to chat on the Internet. All of their friends are on-line and most of them are involved in some type of social networking or gaming site where they meet new people every day. There is no valid mechanism to determine the age of the individual sitting at the other end of that chat session. Our children love to gather online, but allowing them to do so unmonitored is like letting them walk down a dark alley in the worst part of town on any given night. The danger is simply too great. Therefore, parents must be especially vigilant.

Case study

On October 17, 2007 CBS News ran a story[3] about 19-year old Alicia Kozakiewicz . When Alicia was 13 years old, she was chatting with what she thought to be a 14 year old girl online. They became friends, and talked about all the things they had in common. The “friend” knew all of the lingo, slang, clothes, styles and everything else that “she” needed to know to make Alicia feel comfortable that this was indeed a 14 year old girl. They decided to meet, but instead of a finding a 14 year old girl, Alicia found herself abducted by Scott Tyree, a pedophile who took her across state lines and tortured her for four days. Scott posted images of her being tortured online which led to someone reporting the incident and, eventually, to her rescue. Alicia now spends her time crossing the country talking about Internet safety. In testimony before congress in 2007 she said, “The boogey man is real. And he lives on the Net. He lived in my computer — and he lives in yours… While you are sitting here, he is at home with your children.”

Advice from Church leaders

  • "Social networks on the Web can be used to expand healthy friendships as easily as they can be used by predators trying to trap the unwary. That is no different from how people choose to use television or movies or even a library. Satan is always quick to exploit the negative power of new inventions, to spoil and degrade, and to neutralize any effect for good. Make sure that the choices you make in the use of new media are choices that expand your mind, increase your opportunities, and feed your soul." [4]
  • "Brothers and sisters, please understand. I am not suggesting all technology is inherently bad; it is not. Nor am I saying we should not use its many capabilities in appropriate ways to learn, to communicate, to lift and brighten lives, and to build and strengthen the Church; of course we should. But I am raising a warning voice that we should not squander and damage authentic relationships by obsessing over contrived ones" [5]

Tips & suggestions

  • Know what your children are doing online. Make an effort to know where they spend their time and who they chat with. Talk to them and take Ronald Reagan’s advice to “trust, but verify.” Use technology to monitor their chat sessions and watch for warning signs of predatory interactions.
  • Review their social networking sites. Have them add you as a “friend” so you can monitor their pages and posts. Log onto the social network regularly, check their home pages, and watch for posts from their “friends.” Remember that it is not snooping if it is posted on a social networking site – it is “out there” for anyone to read – so read it!
  • Install monitoring software to log their chat and instant messaging conversations and review them on a regular basis. There are plenty of applications that can monitor these conversations and they are very easy to install and use. Find one, install it, and monitor it regularly, watching for warning signs of predators.

Additional resources

References

  1. Statistics, National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
  2. Key RIT Cybercrime Research Findings, Rochester Institute of Technology, 2008.
  3. Fighting To Hunt Predators Online, CBS News, October 17, 2007.
  4. M. Russell Ballard, Sharing the Gospel Using the Internet, Ensign, Jul 2008, 58–63.
  5. David A. Bednar, Things as They Really Are, Ensign, Jun 2010, 16–25,
This page was last modified on 15 April 2011, at 09:27.

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