Online Predators & Strangers
When children go online, they have direct access to their friends and family members, but they also may come into contact with complete strangers. Through the internet, online predators have easy and anonymous access to children.
The Grooming Process
Our kids are seeking attention, affirmation, and love, and online predators are skilled at preying upon these vulnerabilities. Initial conversations often appear innocent, but over time, a predator will seek to establish trust and seek to control their victim. A groomer will test boundaries and exploit a child’s natural curiosities about sex and may use pornography to lower a child’s sexual inhibitions. Online predators will often try to drive a wedge between a child and his or her parents and friends and will flatter and compliment the child excessively. By sympathizing and supporting a child through every conversation topic, a predator can often quickly become a very important person in a vulnerable youth’s life. An online predator will typically prey upon a teen’s desire for romance and adventure and will promise a youth an exciting, stress-free life. Victims will often describe the perpetrator as their “best friend” or the “only person who understands them." In most cases of internet-initiated crime against youth, a teen has been so brainwashed or groomed by a perpetrator that they will meet up with them willingly and repeatedly for sexual contact.
Be aware of whom your kids are communicating with and what activities they are engaging in. If they become obsessed about being online, or are secretive and withdrawn from family and friends, then you should have a conversation with them. If you find that they are downloading pornography or even creating child pornography, they most likely have had some type of inappropriate exposure to pornography or inappropriate contact with a peer or predator. If your child receives phone calls or presents from people you do not know, this is a telltale sign that your son or daughter may be at risk. If you ever find evidence that your child is communicating with an online predator, contact the local authorities immediately.
- Communication is key to protecting your children, whether from online predators, cyberbullies, or internet pornography.
- Pay attention to what your kids are doing online and who they are communicating with.
- Be aware that kids often communicate with strangers through multiplayer gaming devices, so consider limiting their access to strangers in these spaces.
- Supervise all their online activity by keeping the computer in a common space and using monitoring software and parental controls on all internet-enabled devices.
- Your kids should only be online “friends” with people they know and trust offline—individuals who are mom- and dad-approved.
- Ask your kids what sites they visit and check to make sure they are using privacy settings on social networking sites.
- Ask your kids non-threatening questions and avoid overreacting if you realize your kids have been talking to strangers online. Ask your kids if an online stranger has tried to befriend them or said anything that makes them feel uncomfortable. Has an online friend asked for personal information? Talked about sex? Asked for or sent sexual pictures?
- Tell your child to come to you if anyone makes them feel uncomfortable or threatened. Remind your kids that nothing that they ever do will change the fact that you love and care for them.
- Amber Alert: Instant community, law enforcement and media support when a child goes missing www.amberalert.gov
- Family Watch Dog: Provides families with a comprehensive report on registered sex offenders in their neighborhood www.familywatchdog.us
- SafeEyes: Parental control software www.internetsafety.com/xxxchurch
- X3watch: Accountability software www.X3watch.com
- CyberTipline: Resource to report any form of child victimization, exploitation or Internet-initiated crime. Information is coordinated and forwarded to law enforcement for investigation and review www.cybertipline.com
- 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before adulthood. Sadly, the majority of this abuse is perpetrated by a family member or someone whom the victim knows and trusts.
- 1 in 7 kids receives a sexual solicitation while online.
- 13% of 2nd-3rd grade students report that they have used the internet to talk to people they do not know. 11% of these students report having been asked to describe private things about their body, and 10% have been exposed to private things about someone else’s body.
- 9% of children in 7th-9th grade have accepted an online invitation to meet someone in person, and 10% have asked someone online to meet them in person.