Computer Crime Research Center


Web's prowling predators

Date: November 08, 2004
Source: Computer Crime Research Center
By: Robert T DeMarco

The information age has brought about unparalleled instant connectivity. It has also introduced a scary scenario for the pop cultural narrative: the wide-open Internet, the sleazy pedophile, the attention-starved child, the dangerously naive parents. Innocent chats lead to a meeting, then to the unthinkable.

It’s played out around the world. It’s happening locally.

Earlier this month, a 47-year-old Kendallville parochial school teacher was caught in a sting by the sheriff’s department in Wayne County, Mich. Allegedly using a school computer, the man thought he was having graphic sexual conversations with a 13-year-old girl. Instead he was scamming on a deputy.

That would-be molester was caught.

How many are not?

In Sunday’s Journal Gazette, reporter Laura Johnston put together startling statistics concerning online solicitation of children.

One in five children has been propositioned over the Internet.

One in four received unwanted photographs of naked people or people performing sexual acts.

About 77 percent of targeted children were under 14.

Girls are targeted twice as often as boys.

The least surprising, but most nerve-wracking figure: about a quarter of these children who were solicited told their parents.

Twenty-first century parenthood is manifestly different from even just the previous generations. Technology has its blessings: the abundance of inexpensive personal computers, hand-held Web browsers and instant messaging. But with progress comes new problems. The amplified connectivity has also increased the predators’ reach. Conversely, overworked parents (or, in more than a few cases, parent) have too few resources to monitor and protect their children, except one: the ability to control what happens at home when they’re there.

The selection of electronic monitoring devices is getting better, but far from perfect. Research the benefits, realize the limitations. These tools are not a panacea.

Ultimately, the best defense is human understanding, recognizing the difference between classic moodiness and aberrant behavior.

Dr. Linda Wark, a therapist and chairwoman of the human services department at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, suggests putting computers in an open area, instead of the bedroom and adopt rules for how and when they’re used. Wark suggests parents discuss Internet predators early. While sex is still sometimes a difficult subject, a frank discussion about potential peril is warranted.

“Talk to children before they are adolescents about bad people in the world,” she says. “If you inform children by the time they are in the fourth grade about Internet predators, you have probably made an impact that you can’t make with a young adolescent.”

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