Law enforcement officials are telling us that the problem of online child predators is not going to be legislated away, and prevention is going to be the best medicine. Here are some general rules of thumb from a recent seminar given at the Community of Christ Church in Hiawatha. Since even grade school, children are using computers daily. The training begins with them.
Computer character: Who gets e-mail from their friends and family?
Magnuson: Does anybody get e-mails? You guys got your own e-mail accounts?
Children respond: I have mine. I do.
Magnuson: That's going to be a big portion of what we're going to talk about next, is getting them e-mails and if you should open them e-mails or not, because some are dangerous, right? And we're going to learn about that here in a second.
Computer character: You should never give out your personal information to anyone on the Internet without your parents' or guardian's permission.
Magnuson: Okay, everybody repeat this rule with me.
All: I will ask my parents or guardian before sharing my personal information.
Magnuson: And what is your personal information? What is that?
Child: Like, your name and your address and your phone number.
Magnuson: Okay, name, address, and phone number. Very good. That's all your personal information, okay? Does anybody know why we don't share that stuff?
Child: Because if you, like, give someone your, like, address, people can come to your house.
Magnuson: Very good. If you give out your phone number, people can call you, right? If you give out your address, they can find your house.
Child: And if you send your address to somebody that robs places, he'll come to your house and rob your house.
Magnuson: He could. All right, very good.
So I just met someone online that I didn't know, and he said that basically the grass was greener on his side. It was scary because he called me, because then he knew where I lived. He knew what my phone number was, so when he gets out of prison, he could just call me right back again and start this all over again.
Stokesberry: I'm going to tell you some warning signs, what to be looking out for. You should be cautious of someone online who talks about or sends inappropriate material to you. Like I said, if you get pictures or e-mails or messages from someone that makes you feel uncomfortable, it's probably not right, so you need to tell an adult.
If the person you're talking to on the other side makes you feel – or makes you keep everything a secret, if they say don't tell your mom and dad you're talking to me, don't tell your friends what we talk about, don't tell anybody how old I am, that should be putting up red flags in your head that something is probably not right.
But like I said, once you put it out there, it's going to be out there forever. You can't take it back. So never put pictures out there or say anything that you wouldn't want your mom or dad to see or hear or your teachers or possible employers, because people do go out and check those things when you're applying for a job or applying at colleges. They could just go out to Google and type in your name, and lots of things could pop up.
Oh, my God, he's so cute. How do you know him?
Come on, Tommy! Do it like I taught you. Love the new tattoo, Sarah. Let's go!!!
Dude, that's Sarah. The girl in the pink shirt, that's the girl I was telling you about.
Oh, that's Sarah?!
Theater two, on your left. Hey, Sarah. What color underwear today?
Ferjak: MySpace gets more hits daily than Google and eBay. Stop and think about that. I mean I can't begin to fathom how many people that would be. So it's a better-than-average shot that if you have a child in that age group, they've got an online profile somewhere.
When we interview these guys, they talk about these sites in terms like “target rich environment.” They talk about how happy they are that they got it and how much fun it is to pursue a child, the thrill of the hunt. They are indeed hunters.
Predators like it because they don't have to work at getting the information from your children. In the chat rooms, they had to work at it. They had to just ask questions and just work with you, but now on these pages, you're putting it out there, your kids are putting it out there free. It's there.
Why do they do it? Because the children feel anonymous online. I said: "Why do you go online and talk to a perfect stranger about things you wouldn't talk about with Mom and Dad or your schoolmates?" It's because they talk about these kinds of things: They talk about sexual orientation; they talk about sexual identity; sexual interests; drug experimentation; self-mutilating behaviors; all kinds of things that if I said that in front of Mom and Dad, why, they'd lock me up and throw away the key.
But there is a safety in talking to somebody you think you'll never meet, and they really, really buy into that. The problem is the predator isn't thinking they'll never meet them. The predator is already working towards that ultimate goal of the offline meeting. That's what they want. Your child just doesn't realize that.