SEXUAL PREDATORS: KNOW THE ENEMY
Although children are far more likely to come across sexually oriented
content online than to encounter an online predator, the tragedy that can result
from having a child cross paths with a predator makes it imperative that
parent understand this issue.
In the physical world, a predator or child molester is usually someone
a parent or child knowssomeone who might even be trusted by the
family. Online, however, it can be a different story. Predators can use
the Internet to seek out children they dont know. When they succeed
in establishing and maintaining contact, the informal nature of the medium
itself is partly to blame. The usual caution that kids might exercise
away from the computerwalking to school, for examplecan gradually
erode. By the time a child agrees to meet a predator face to face, he
or she no longer thinks of that person as a stranger.
Young teens have a real desire to be free of their
parents authority and to gain acceptance as grown-ups. But teens
are also naïve and inexperienced, especially in dealing with adults
who have ulterior motives. Sexual predators take advantage of these qualities.
They manipulate kids in an effort to gain trust, which they use to gradually
turn seemingly innocent online relationships into real-life sexual interactions.
A predator usually approaches a child target through initially harmless
chat room or instant-message
dialogue. Over timeperhaps weeks or even monthsthe stranger,
having obtained as much personal information as possible, grooms the child,
gaining his or her trust through compliments, positive statements, and
other forms of flattery to build an emotional bond.
As the child begins to respond to and bond with this person, conversations
become more personal. Some predators also pass along sexually explicit
images of children to suggest to the targeted child that its normal
for kids to be involved in sexual activities. From there it could be a
short distance to a face-to-face meeting.
protect your children from online predators, give them sound guidelines
about contacting others on the Web, including rules on how to protect
their personal information. And just as we were taught never to accept
rides from strangers, todays kids should be instructed never to
meet anyone they encounter online without your approval.
If you suspect that your child has experienced something
inappropriate with someone online or is currently communicating with a
potential predator, its very important that you reach out in a calm
and nonjudgmental way. Your child might be feeling guilty or even frightened; he or she
needs to feel free to talk to you. Get information on what happened, and
then report the incident.
If a predator somehow gets a hold of your phone number
or address and begins harassing your child offline, contact your local
law-enforcement agency or the FBI
For additional sources of information on how sexual predators operate
and on signs that your child might be having problems, go to Helpful