Children of all age groups use the Internet for socializing, school projects, music and entertainment. The Internet can open up a world of information, but unfortunately, it can also open up a world of danger, with children particularly vulnerable to this risk. Sexual predators lurk in chat rooms and visit social networking sites scanning for victims. Once they make contact they quickly develop friendships by feigning common interests. Vulnerable children can quickly develop emotional dependence on people they meet on the Internet.
How It Can Happen
It is important to remember that children can be victimized without face-to-face contact with perpetrators. Inappropriate "chat" can be highly sexualized and there may be a transfer of sexually explicit information and material. Children lack the emotional maturity to discern inappropriate contact. This makes them more vulnerable to manipulation and intimidation. Many children seek attention and validation. Predators are all too ready to provide it to them. The anonymity of the Internet allows predators to hide their identity and children may assume they are conversing with someone closer in age and status than the predator actually is.
Predators may initiate an offline meeting for sex early in the online relationship or may spend months "grooming" the victim for a sexual relationship. When the predator is ready to move the relationship into the physical world, he or she may coax their victims with gifts and other material goods. Predators have been known to offer bus or plane tickets and money to entice the child to travel to areas where the predator will have greater control over the child.
Protect Your Children
Parents must be ever vigilant in protecting their children from online predators. The best approach is a preventive one. Just as parents/guardians work hard to know , in the real world, what their children are doing and who they are doing it with, they need to be just as vigilant with their children's' online lives. Talk to your child about the risks of forming online relationships. Tell children to never give out personal information to anyone that they do not personally know - in real life - and never arrange to meet someone face-to-face that they met on the Internet. Stress that impostors prey on children and that predators are skilled at creating false impressions. Review the information on the Monitoring Internet Use page of this website for tips on restricting your child's access to offensive or inappropriate sites.
Contact local or state law enforcement immediately if:
- Your child, or anyone in your household, receives child pornography.
- Your child has been sexually solicited by anyone who is aware that your child is under the age of 18.
- Your child receives sexually explicit material from someone who is aware that your child is under the age of 18.
Have you found sexually explicit material on your child's computer? Predators often supply victims with sexually explicit material as a way to steer the conversation toward sex. If you find sexually explicit material on the computer, your child may be a victim of a predator. Be aware that the child may hide this information on CDs or other removable media.
Is your child receiving calls from numbers that you don't recognize or making calls to unknown long distance numbers? Predators elevate their contact with the victim by moving the conversations from the Internet to the telephone. Even if a child refuses to disclose his or her phone number, predators will provide their own telephone number, and some predators have obtained toll-free numbers so that potential victims can call without parents knowing. Once the child calls, predators can obtain the child's number from caller ID.
Other warning signs may include packages and gifts mailed to your child from an unknown address. Children viewing pornography or involved in sexually explicit conversations will be quick to hide this from parental eyes. If your child turns off the monitor or computer when you approach it may be a sign that something is amiss. Although teenagers are prone to mood swings, withdrawal from the family can be a cause for concern. Predators work to drive a wedge between the child and the rest of the family. Vulnerability increases with distance and decreased familial dialogue.
For more information on warning signs, view the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children website.