The Internet has become the sexual predator’s playground. It’s anonymous and provides these sexual deviants with more protection and more quarry than they could ever target outside. They need to find a willing and naïve target. And their online playground is crowded with innocent victims.
Teenage internet safety is in the news every day. Pre-teens and teens frequently post information and/or photos of themselves without believing that their online activities are putting them in danger. The “new friend” that they think they’re making in a social networking site may very well be a convicted child molester.
Child pornography and exploitation is a 20 billion dollar business, and there is no end in sight. Every day, somewhere, a child is being victimized online. There are as many as 400,000 prostituted children in the U.S, according to Mia Spanganberg’s 2001 report: Prostitution In New York City, An Overview. The unofficial estimate however is 1.5 million American children illegally trafficked each year, according to director, Carol Smolenski, of ECPAT (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking). While the Internet is not responsible for all of these, it certainly is a factor.
It is up to us as parents and caretakers and our children to know how predators work, what their motives are, and what to do to remain safe while enjoying activities on the net.
The first thing to know is that sexual predators continually troll the Internet looking for child targets. They browse personal profiles that children — typically 12- to 15-year-olds, post on social networking sites, such as MySpace.com, or instant message services. Perpetrators anonymously lurk in the background of chat rooms. Sometimes they’ll collect information on a particular child before trying to make contact. Other times, if the child’s remarks seem inviting, provocative, or — if the child seems lonely and looking for friends — they’ll make an immediate contact.
The easiest targets are those kids who can be conned into keeping secrets. Children should be warned if they meet anyone online who asks them to keep a secret, they should report it to you immediately. Ensure them that they will never get in trouble for telling the truth. This is not a time for punishment, but rather a time for being an understanding and a pro-active parent.
Sexual predators search for kids who post personal online profiles and are particularly drawn to those youngsters who submit photographs of themselves, offer a physical description and include their name, age, sex, and location. They look for victims who have regular and private access to a computer and are consistently online for long periods of time.
They like those who have few activities or lack a strong network of friends. They seek out the vulnerable and those who are willing to keep talking. Vulnerability comes in many forms: a child or teen who is sheltered, insecure, unhappy, lonely, or adventurous is a good target. Predators also like those who come from single parent families, are having difficulty in school, with friends, or with the law or are experimenting with drugs, alcohol, or sex.
Today, many young people have their own instant message accounts. This is also attractive to predators. Although some of them use email, they prefer instant messages because once the instant message window is closed the message seems to disappear. With email, the message has to be manually deleted, thus posing a risk of being caught. Law enforcement estimates that the typical online sexual predator has victimized anywhere from 30 to 150 kids prior to being arrested.
Predators often pose as children or teenagers. They are experts in the interests of young people, and they know exactly how they talk. Their goal is to create a “trust bridge” relationship that becomes more important to the child than the relationship with family or friends. The predator uses the relationship to initiate sexual discussion and activity. One of their main activities is coaxing the victim to take provocative or lewd videos or photos of themselves. Sometimes these photos are copied and sold to child pornographers or end up on pedophile websites.
The Internet pornography industry generates $12 billion dollars in annual revenue – larger than the combined annual revenues of ABC, NBC, and CBS, according to Family Safe Media, January 10, 2006.
Law enforcement officials estimate that as many as 50,000 sexual predators are online at any given moment.
(Dateline, January 2006)
Predators need children who will be open to sexual discussions and not terminate the relationship at the first suggestion of sexual activity. They will expose the child to sexual images in an effort to break down their barriers and portray the viewing of sexual photos and deviant sexual activities as “normal” – the desensitization stage.
Children, no matter what age, are basically loyal to those who lend attention and care about them – whether it is genuine or not. If the predator has groomed the target well, he or she will put up with this uncomfortable conversation and the viewing of sexual images so as not to lose their new friend. On occasion a child may get frightened and want to end the relationship. The predator may threaten to expose them to parents or friends. Depending upon the situation, they may threaten to harm them or their family — if they fail to “go along.”
Typically, however, the predator doesn’t want to alienate his prey, but rather wants to insure their loyalty and confidence. The final goal is to lure the child into a secret, face-to-face meeting – sometimes including a plan to run away from home. The predator’s objective is to have sex with his victim, or more tragically, to abduct and engage in sexual slavery and/or murder.