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PREDATORS:
The guy…or gal…next door or online

Kilroy Laptop croppedMany of my posts have dealt with issues surrounding the Internet, pornography, and Christian sexuality.  These are all related.

Another related topic is that of ONLINE PREDATORS.

When parents consider predator threats they often make a few dangerous assumptions:

  1. It’s not in my community,
  2. Predators are male, and
  3. If I monitor my computers I’m covering the threat.

This week’s headlines about a Houston, TX woman who was arrested for allegedly seducing a Canadian teen through the online game WORLD OF WARCRAFT shows how varied the threat is.  Read these two articles about this tragic incident:

Warcraft ”romance” leads to heartbreak & charges

Texas mom ‘groomed’ Barrie teen

Predators take all forms and use any avenue of contact to reach their targets.  We, as parents, need to understand these dangers so we can better protect our children.

Creepy guy REV bWe typically think of a predator as “that evil, creepy-looking guy in a trench coat hanging out at the corner of the elementary school”.  Today, nothing can be farther from the truth.  The predator in 21st Century America can be:

  • Male or female
  • Teen or adult (sometimes our children’s peers!)
  • Professional, white collar, or blue collar
  • Well educated
  • Single, or married with children
  • Of any religion or creed
  • Already known to you or your children

Before the advent of the Internet a predator would have to develop a “real space” relationship with his or her target.  That could include:

  • Hanging out where kids hang out
  • Getting a job where kids work (theaters, schools, fast food joints, amusement parks, etc.)
  • Becoming a leader in organizations that work with kid.

Boy w game pad MODToday the Internet provides direct, real-time conduits which predators can and do exploit.  While parents normally think of the PC and the World Wide Web as a contact point, the devices and technologies now used to connect with kids cover the spectrum from:

  • Cell phones
  • Online gaming on devices such as X-Box, PS3, Wii, PSP. DSi, and the PC
  • Online game “worlds” such as World of Warcraft, Sims Online, and many others
  • Social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc.
  • Instant Messaging
  • Online forums for game, technologies, “fan clubs”, etc.
  • “Virual worlds” such as Second Life.

Teen ChattingPredators take their time.  They do not go online with the intent of a “quick score”.  To accomplish their goals they have to build confidence and break down barriers.  As we saw in the story, above, the adult allegedly met met the Canadian teen online while playing WORLD OF WARCRAFT in SEPTEMBER 2008, but did not physically meet until JANUARY 2010.  During that time, according to the news reports, the adult “groomed’ her target.

Talk between a predator and a victim might begin innocently.  It may begin in a game world by being in the same “clan” (the ‘Net term for a team).  Discussion may start out dealing with game issues.  Over time familiarity grows and barriers drop.  Trust is developed.  Then, events in the child’s life are exploited (issues with parents, a painful break-up, not making the soccer team, etc.).

You can see how this happens.

Keep in mind that “experienced predators” keep good notes.  They know that there are cybercops on patrol and that they need to “verify” their target. One cybercop I’ve talked with said that he must also keep detailed records of what he says to each possible predator that he makes contact with.  He has to be consistent.  He gave the following example:

“If I portray myself as a 14-year old blonde in 8th Grade in the Spring, then I’d better be in the 9th grade, blonde, and have the same interests and history in the Fall.  Predators will notice inconsistencies.”

Scary stuff, right?

Mom and teenWell, what do we do as parents? There are some simple steps we need to take, and we need to be constant and consistent about them.  We need to share with our children the following safety rules for the Internet:

  • Children playing online games should never, EVER discuss anything with other players that is not game related.
  • Chat rooms and social networking sites are not places for children to meet strangers.
  • Never share any personal information with anyone online.  You wouldn’t share it with a stranger you just met in the mall, or even the clerk you’ve seen at the store for years.  Why do it on the Internet where you know even less.
    .
    NOTE
    : Predators will take their time and build a database on your child.  For instance, if they have determined that your child lives near Fort Worth, they can further localize them by finding out info about their school.  They might say (online): “My parents just moved me to a private school where the colors are pink and green!! Sheesh!  Your school’s colors aren’t that lame, are they?” If you child answered “They are Crimson and Gold,” then the predator might localize your child to Central High School in the Keller ISD! (Based on an actual case!)

In addition to educating our kids, parents should:

  • Investigate the game sites their children frequent to understand the parental controls and reporting, if any.
  • Have the logon and password for any account their child has online.
  • Only have Internet access on computers in open spaces, with the screens visible to passersby. Don’t forget portable devices such as the Apple iTouch and Sony PSP.
  • Talk regularly about online safety.
  • Search all computers for unusual programs, or for improper files and media.
  • Install monitoring software such as SPECTOR PRO.
  • Finally, tell children that they can come to Mom and Dad with any suspicion or uncertainty they have, and without fear of any punishment.!

One of the most important things we can do, and which we unfortunately MUST do, is begin to instill in our children a “healthy paranoia”.  Children often feel that they know what is happening, that they can control things, and that they can “tell” if it is a bad guy.  We must teach them to be suspicious, and to recognize warning signs.

Let us recap some of the things we know from the story about the Canadian teen:

  • The relationship began playing a game
  • Months passed between initial online contact and physical contact
  • The two were in different countries.

A greaFBI Shieldt guide to online safety put out by the
FBI can be found HERE.

It provides a great list of warning signs.

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