What are Online Predators?
Online predators are individuals who seek to befriend kids or teens on the Internet in pursuit of a sexual relationship. These criminals start by finding vulnerable targets in places such as chat rooms, forums or social networking websites like MySpace or Facebook. They seek to gradually gain the victim's trust until a friendly relationship is formed. Once the victim has been sufficiently "groomed" by the lies and promises the predator offers to gain the child's confidence, the predator may ask for sexual favors (such as sharing pornographic photos or videos online) or may even ask to meet the child in person.
Concerns for Parents
- A predator could be sending your child pornography, having inappropriate and sexually-charged conversations with your child, may be asking your child to perform sexual acts and to create child pornography, or may even be attempting to meet your child in person.
- The Internet offers a frightening level of anonymity to predators and criminals of all kinds. Your child may genuinely believe she is talking to a fellow nine-year-old girl who is actually a fifty-year-old man who has steadily lied to her and pretended to be a friend. In short, people can lie about everything and anything online, and kids don't always understand this concept or exercise proper caution in online communication.
How Can I Keep My Child Safe?
- Talk to your kids about sexual predators. Be sure they understand that people can and do lie online. Keep communication lines open enough that your child will come to you if anything scary happens online.
- Teach your kids to be assertive online. Predators seek passive, vulnerable, lonely kids who are easily convinced into doing things that may make them uneasy. Make sure your children aren't afraid to block any web user who makes them feel uncomfortable in any way.
- Keep your computer in an open, high-traffic area. Your child is far less likely to be involved in inappropriate activity online if the computer screen can be seen by others in the room.
- Avoid chat rooms. Decide what is age-appropriate for your child. If your child is allowed to visit chat rooms at all, be sure that they are moderated and wholesome online forums.
- Be careful with Social Network accounts. Be sure that your child's Social Network profile/space uses the highest privacy settings. Your children should not be posting pictures with full names and other personal info anywhere besides a closed blog or a social network page that only approved friends can access.
Recent studies show that sexual solicitation online is a real and growing problem:
- At least 19 percent of children receive unwanted sexual solicitations online. 1.
- Of the sexually solicited youths, 40% reported being asked for nude or sexually explicit photos of themselves. 3
- One third of sexual solicitations received by kids and teens over the web are "aggressive:" the predator attempted to make offline contact with the victim. 4
- Sixty-four percent of teens say they do things online they wouldn't want their parents to know about. 5
Where Can I Learn More?
Read a guest blog post on our site by Ken Shallcross, Protection from Internet dangers.
Here is a summary of an article from the Journal of the American Medical Association. It outlines recent studies and statistics on web safety for kids.