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How To Protect Your Kids From Internet Predators

Tuesday February 12, 2008 Staff

Fifteen seconds. That's how long it takes for a cop posing as a child to be approached by an online predator.

Detective Constable Chris Purchase works as an undercover officer with the Toronto Police Child Exploitation Unit. He's found that a web cam is typically turned on 35 to 45 seconds into the conversaton. Very often the predator is performing a sexual act, which they are broadcasting on someone they believe is as young as 12. And parents are completely unaware. "It's amazing how many parents have no idea what their children are doing online," Purchase says.

"Predators, offenders are very good. They're very, very sly at being able to recognize the weaknesses and the cracks in a child, and the predators are very good at being able to fill those gaps," adds Inspector Andy Stewart of the Ontario Provincial Police.

There may not be much you can do to stop a child predator from collecting disgusting images of children in sexual situations. As the new figures from the OPP prove, there are already too many of them operating in the shadows.

But while police work hard to shine a light into this disturbing darkness, there are some things to tell your children before they go on the Internet to stop them from being added to the collection.

Among them:

-Never allow them to give their personal information to someone in a chat room. In fact, they shouldn't even be using their real name or age. If they're on a site that allows for picture identification, be sure they use an avatar. And tell them under no circumstances are they to ever reveal their address, their phone number or where they go to school.

-If they want to post a personal diary on a site like Facebook, make sure it's a private one, open only to friends they know. But even that's no guarantee. Predators troll the profiles, looking for potential victims. Until they're a certain age, you may want to keep them off such sites entirely.

-Tell them to tell you about any online harassment or any messages that make them feel uncomfortable. It's a virtual world, but it's still filled with plenty of real life villains.

-Remind them that anything they post online is permanent. Changing their profile doesn't delete old copies of it. Anything they say or have said in the past can be accessed by others, as a permanent record.

-Childhood is a trusting time. You know people aren't always who they say they are. They may not. It may diminish their outlook slightly, but it's too valuable a lesson not to teach them.

-Make them promise they'll never agree to meet anyone they contacted online. Most child predators pose as kids the same age, and know all the lingo. They gradually gain trust before suggesting they 'get together' with your child.

-Be sure to always monitor what you child is doing online, including who he or she is chatting with and what sites they're looking at. There are large numbers of software programs that allow you to block different web addresses or prevent them from going to places where inappropriate words you specify appear. Most aren't expensive and can be very effective, acting as a second safeguard.

If you suspect someone has made inappropriate contact with your child, call the Toronto Police Child Exploitation Section at (416) 808-8500.

Source: Toronto Police Child Exploitation Section

Frequently Asked Questions About Child Exploitation

Which children are most at risk?

* New online and unfamiliar with Netiquette
* Actively seeking attention/affection
* Rebellious
* Isolated or lonely
* Curious
* Confused regarding sexual identity
* Easily tricked by adults
* Allured by subcultures outside of parents' world

How can you tell if a child is being targeted?

Here some clues that may indicate that a child has been targeted by an online predator:

* A child or teen spends large amounts of time online
* Most children who fall victim to online predators spend a lot of time online, particularly in chat rooms. In such cases, parents should monitor how much time is spent online, and in what activities.
* You find pornography on the family computer.Predators often use pornography to sexually victimize children-often supplying it as a way to open sexual discussions with potential victims. Child pornography may be used to convince a child victim that adults having sex with children is "normal." Parents should be aware that a child may hide pornographic files on diskettes, especially if the
computer is used by other family members.
* A child or teen receives phone calls from people you don't know; or makes calls to numbers you don't recognize-sometimes long distance.Online predators may try to contact young people to engage in "phone sex," or to try to set up a real-world meeting. If kids are hesitant to give out their home phone number, online sex offenders will give out theirs. Some have even obtained toll-free 1-800 numbers, so their potential victims can call them without their parents finding out. Others will tell the child to call collect-and then, with Caller ID, they can easily find out the child's phone number.
* A child or teen receives mail, gifts, or packages from someone you don't know. It's common for offenders to send letters, photographs, and all manner of gifts to their potential victims. Computer-sex offenders have even sent plane tickets to try to entice a child or teen to travel across the country to meet them.
* A child or teen becomes withdrawn from family and friends; or quickly turns the computer monitor off or changes the screen if an adult comes into the room.Online predators work hard to drive wedges between kids and their families, often exaggerating any minor problems at home. Sexually victimized children often become withdrawn and depressed. And if kids are avoiding their friends or skipping classes, they may be attempting to meet with a predator.
* A child is using someone else's online account. Even kids who don't have access to the Internet at home may meet an offender while online at a friend's house or the library. Predators will sometimes provide their victims with a computer account, so they can communicate with them.

What can you do if a child is being targeted?

* You should contact your local police immediately if an online correspondent sends a young person child pornography or sexually explicit images; and especially if a young person is actually sexually solicited.
* Check your computer for pornographic files or any kind of sexual communications-these can be warning signs.
* Monitor the child's access to all live electronic communications, such as chat rooms, instant messages, and email. Online predators almost always meet potential victims in chat rooms at first, and then continue communicating with them electronically via email.

Pocketfull of Sunshine

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