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Online Sexual Predators and Your Child

The goal of an online sexual predator is to meet their child victim face-to-face for the sole purpose of sexual victimization and/or abduction. They accomplish this by using a technique referred to as "grooming". Initially, grooming involves establishing a "trust bridge relationship" with the child. It often involves alienating him/her from family/friends and can involve using fear or intimidation tactics.

As a parent, it is vital to "grow with your child". From the age of ten to seventeen years old, their thoughts, attitudes, and relationships are taking shape in profound ways in which you may not even be aware. They are becoming their own person, and with each year of growth and maturity, they define their individuality even more. During these particular growth years, it is just as important for you to "ask your child" what he/she thinks about things and have an open, non-threatening discussion, as it is for you to "tell" him/her what your values are and why they must adhere to them. Only in that way, will you be able to know your child on "their" personal level. You need to know their vulnerabilities because if you don't, and if they forming a friendship with a child predator, that predator will certainly know what their vulnerabilities are and how to fill that void. What do you know about your individual child, their values, vulnerabilities, and projected behavior in certain circumstances?

Children reach out for online friendships for many reasons but the key reasons are loneliness, estrangement, not feeling "heard", and/or low self-esteem. Children, especially teens, have very fragile emotions. They need to feel appreciated, loved, celebrated, and safe. They are particularly vulnerable if their parents are going through or have gone through a divorce; if they have experienced the death of a loved one; or if they feel they have no one that will listen and "hear" them.

If your child is exhibiting some of the following behaviors, but you are unsure if they are at risk of being victimized by an online predator, purchase key-logging software. These are programs that will keep a password-protected transcript of emails without them knowing. The transcripts can be sent to a different computer. The danger to using a program such as this is that if your child learns you're "spying" on them, they will find another way to communicate, which can make it more difficult for you to monitor their behavior.

The FBI recommends the following:

If any of the following situations arise in your household, via the Internet or on-line service, you should immediately contact your local or state law enforcement agency, the FBI: (202) 324-3666, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at www.missingkids.com/cybertip or call 1-800-thelost.

  1. Your child or anyone in the household has received child pornography;
  2. Your child has been sexually solicited by someone who knows that your child is under 18 years of age;
  3. Your child has received sexually explicit images from someone that knows your child is under the age of 18.

If one of these scenarios occurs, keep the computer turned off in order to preserve any evidence for future law enforcement use. Unless directed to do so by the law enforcement agency, you should not attempt to copy any of the images and/or text found on the computer.

8 Signs That Your Child May Be In The Process Of Being Groomed By A Predator

  1. Spends large amounts of time online and/or text messaging -- especially at night. Frequenting chat rooms, especially at night, puts them at a greater risk for predators. Know that teens also spend time at night text messaging their friends.
    Strategy: Monitor and restrict online and text messaging time -- implement a curfew. Check your computer's "history" to see where you kids go and then go there yourself.
  2. Doesn't want to tell you who his/her cyber friends are, or what their screen names are. Strategy: Ask them to show you their "buddy list" and ask for information about each one.
  3. You child turns the computer monitor off or quickly changes the screen on the monitor when you come into the room.
    If your child is looking at pornographic images or is having sexually explicit conversations, he/she does not want you to see it on the screen. Keep in mind that this is not always an indication of the above. Sometimes it can be merely teen talk.
    Strategy: Remember: "You are the parent." It is your responsibility to "parent" within this environment. It is ALWAYS best to have open, non-threatening conversations with your child about his/her online activities. Use your instincts as their parent.
  4. You find pornography on your child's computer.
    This is often used in the course of sexual victimization of children. Sex offenders often supply their potential victims with pornography as a means of opening sexual discussion and to break down their barriers for seduction later. Child pornography may be used to show the child victim that sex between children and adults is "normal" and again, to break down their barriers. Parents should be conscious of the fact that a child may hide the pornographic files on diskettes or thumb drives or personal mobile devices such as cell phones. This may be especially true if other family members use the computer.
    Strategy: Talk to your child in an open, non-threatening manner. You MUST contact law enforcement, the FBI: (202) 324-3666, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at: www.missingkids.com/cybertip or call 1-800-thelost.KNOW: It is a felony to have child pornography on your computer; to engage a child is posing for pornographic photographs; and for luring and seducing minor children. Additionally, if your Internet service provider or law enforcement discovers that your computer has received these images "you" may be prosecuted. It is imperative that you IMMEDIATELY report that your child has received these images.
  5. Your child receives phone calls from men you don't know or is making calls, sometimes long distance, to numbers you don't recognize.
    For many reasons, child sex offenders want to move from the online relationship to that of talking to their potential victims on the phone. They can engage in "phone sex" with the child and often try to set up an actual meeting for real sex. Also, they want to know where the child lives. -- While the child may be hesitant to give out his/her own phone number, the sex offender will give out theirs. Some sex offenders have toll-free 800 numbers, so that their potential victims can call them without their parents knowledge. Some others will tell the child to call "collect". When the child calls, the predator will get their number from "Caller I.D.", then by using a "reverse telephone directory", they can get the child's address. This can also be a source for stalking and/or abduction.
    Strategy: Talk to your child openly, in a non-threatening manner about their chat room friend. Tell your child "why" you are concerned. Bottom line: Use your instincts and available tools (Refer to the following FBI recommendations: #3- #6 "If You Suspect Your Child Is Communicating With A Sexual Predator Online")
  6. You child receives mail, gifts, or packages from someone you don't know.
    As part of the grooming process, it's common for offenders to send letters, photographs, and all manner of gifts to their potential victims. Computer-sex offenders have also sent plane and bus tickets in order for the child to travel across the country to meet them.
    Strategy: Again, talk to your child openly, in a non-threatening manner about their chat room friend. Tell your child "why" you are concerned. Arrange to sit in on one of the chats.
    Use your instincts. If you believe this individual is a predator, IMMEDIATELY contact law enforcement, the FBI: (202) 324-3666, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at: www.missingkids.com/cybertip or call 1-800-thelost.
  7. Your child becomes depressed and/or withdrawn from the family and possibly friends.
    The online sex offender needs to position himself as the person who totally understands your child. He will try to exploit your relationship with your child so that trust with him supercedes your relationship and love. This can be done either within a very short amount of time, or he may take several months to groom the child. The predator will blow out of proportion even the most minor of typical home life problems. Children need to know they are loved and that someone is listening to them. The sex offender preys on this need and seeks to fulfill it.
    If the child has become sexually victimized, he/she may become withdrawn, has trouble sleeping or sleeps too much, eats too little or eat too much, engages in self-mutilation, is fearful for no apparent reason, and/or has trouble in school. Know that there may be a feeling of guilt and shame that the predator will use to his advantage.
    Strategy: Your child needs professional help NOW. Seek the advice of a therapist whose specialty is teens. Know that your child may not want to talk to you about what is going on. Do not be hurt as this may be your child's way of trying not to hurt or disappoint you. That is why it is important for your child to talk confidentially with a third party. If your child has been victimized online, contact law enforcement.
  8. Your child is using someone else's online account.
    Regardless of whether or not you subscribe to an online service, know that your child has other available options. He/she may meet a computer-sex offender while online at the library, a friend's house, or at a cyber café. A predator, once having targeted a child, may provide an online account for them, including an internet enabled cell phone.
    Strategy: Have an open, non-threatening conversation with your child. Depending upon the circumstances, you may need to contact law enforcement, or just your child's school counselor. It may be that your child is engaging in cyber-bullying of another child, rather than being victimized by a predator. In any event, your child "absolutely" knows, from what is being taught in schools across the country these days, that it is "never" acceptable to use someone else's online account. If however, a predator is grooming your child, IMMEDIATELY contact law enforcement, the FBI: (202) 324-3666, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at: www.missingkids.com/cybertip or call 1-800-thelost.

What Should You Do If You Suspect Your Child Is Communicating With A Sexual Predator Online?

Understand, even if your child was a willing participant in any form of sexual exploitation that HE/SHE IS NOT AT FAULT and is the VICTIM. The offender ALWAYS bears the complete responsibility for his or her actions.

  1. Consider talking openly with your child about your suspicions. Tell them about the dangers of computer-sex offenders.
  2. Review what is on your child's computer. If you don't know how, ask a friend, coworker, relative, or other knowledgeable person. Pornography or any kind of sexual communication can be a warning sign.
  3. Use the Caller ID service to determine who is calling your child. Most telephone companies that offer Caller ID also offer a service that allows you to block your number from appearing on someone else's Caller ID. Telephone companies also offer an additional service feature that rejects incoming calls that you block. This rejection feature prevents computer-sex offenders or anyone else from calling your home anonymously.
  4. Devices can be purchased that show telephone numbers that have been dialed from your home phone. Additionally, the last number called from your home phone can be retrieved provided that the telephone is equipped with a redial feature. You will also need a telephone pager to complete this retrieval.
  5. This is done using a numeric-display pager and another phone that is on the same line as the first phone with the redial feature. Using the two phones and the pager, a call is placed from the second phone to the pager. When the paging terminal beeps for you to enter a telephone number, you press the redial button on the first (or suspect) phone. The last number called from that phone will then be displayed on the pager.
  6. Monitor your child's access to all types of live electronic communications including Internet enabled cell phones and regular cell phones (i.e., chat rooms, instant messages, text messages, Internet Relay Chat, etc.), and monitor your child's e-mail, text messages, and cell phone photos and videos. Computer-sex offenders almost always meet potential victims via chat rooms. After meeting a child on-line, they will continue to communicate electronically often via e-mail, text messaging, and cell phones.

What Can You Do To Minimize The Chances Of An Online Predator Victimizing Your Child?

  • Communicate, and talk to your child about sexual victimization and potential online danger.
  • Spend time with your children on-line. Have them teach you about their favorite on-line destinations.
  • Keep the computer in a common room in the house, not in your child's bedroom. It is much more difficult for a computer-sex offender to communicate with a child when the computer screen is visible to a parent or another member of the household.
  • Utilize parental controls provided by your service provider and/or blocking software. While electronic chat can be a great place for children to make new friends and discuss various topics of interest, it is also prowled by computer-sex offenders. Use of chat rooms, in particular, should be heavily monitored. While parents should utilize these mechanisms, they should not totally rely on them.
  • Always maintain access to your child's online account and randomly check his/her e-mail. Be aware that your child could be contacted through the U.S. Mail. Be up front with your child about your access and reasons why.
  • Teach your child the responsible use of the resources on-line. There is much more to the on-line experience than chat rooms.
  • Find out what computer safeguards are utilized by your child's school, the public library, and at the homes of your child's friends. These are all places, outside your normal supervision, where your child could encounter an on-line predator.

Instruct your children to:

  • Never arrange a face-to-face meeting with someone they met on- line;
  • Never upload (post) pictures of themselves onto the Internet or on-line service to people they do not personally know;
  • Never give out identifying information such as their name, home address, school name, or telephone number;
  • Never download pictures from an unknown source, as there is a good chance there could be sexually explicit images;
  • Never respond to messages or bulletin board postings that are suggestive, obscene, belligerent, or harassing.
  • And - Tell your children that whatever they are told online may or may not be true.

Frequently Asked Questions:

My child has received an e-mail advertising for a pornographic website, what should I do?

Generally, advertising for an adult, pornographic website that is sent to an e-mail address does not violate federal law or the current laws of most states. In some states it may be a violation of law if the sender knows the recipient is under the age of 18. Such advertising can be reported to your service provider and, if known, the service provider of the originator. It can also be reported to your state and federal legislators, so they can be made aware of the extent of the problem.

Is any service safer than the others?

Sex offenders have contacted children via most of the major on-line services and the Internet. The most important factors in keeping your child safe on-line are the utilization of appropriate blocking software and/or parental controls, along with open, honest discussions with your child, monitoring his/her on-line activity, and following the tips in this pamphlet.

Should I just forbid my child from going online?

There are dangers in every part of our society. By educating your children to these dangers and taking appropriate steps to protect them, they can benefit from the wealth of information now available online.Additionally, the Internet has become a part of the fabric of the 21st Century. If you forbid your child to go online, he/she will likely go online on someone else's computer. It is recommended that your child learn safe and responsible Internet use.