Online predators: It's worse than you think


Officer Heather Lackey surfs Chat Rooms posing as a 13-year old minor as part of an undercover operation to catch sex offenders. A big eye opener is the high number of sexual messages inappropriately directed to her from men. On a typical chat session, she says that it only takes a matter of minutes before someone tries to make contact with her. On this particular morning, she was approached within seconds of entering the room.

"Would you let me touch you if I was there?" the offender typed on the screen after first asking if she were alone.

It's no secret the sizeable increase in the number of online sex offenders. But the big question is do most parents truly realize the severity and frequency of this crime; and how every child is at risk every time he/she goes online.

Fact: Police estimate that almost all minor Internet users have unknowingly been in contact with a sex offender at one time or another.

Police say Internet predators can be found in almost every chat room on the Web. In fact, because of its anonymous nature and infinite number of chat rooms, the Internet is the perfect environment for a child molester to lure children in.

Police say that the majority of victims are loners with little parental supervision. Many turn to the Internet hoping to find a “friend” – someone who really understands them. Sex offenders are masters at manipulating their victims into trusting them. They shower their prey with kindness and compliments in order to lull the children into a false sense of security. And once they have gained the child’s trust; it doesn’t take much to convince the child to meet his new “friend” in person.

Is your child at risk?

Though every child is at risk, by following these 4 easy guidelines, a good number of these incidents can be avoided:

  1. Setup the computer in a central location – never the bedroom. Many experts agree that your child’s computer should be located in a shared family space so that parents and siblings can monitor any Internet activity. Remember, the first question that most molesters ask is if the child is alone. Parental supervision is the #1 deterrent to sex offenders.
  2. Never tell a user that you are alone. "One of the first things they will ask me when I'm undercover is 'Is anyone around, is anyone there?'" says Officer Lackey. ALWAYS answer "yes". Most won't take the risk of getting caught and will move on to more easier prey.
  3. Never reveal any personal information. Sex offenders are well known for their cunning. There have been cases where sex offenders have actually tracked down their victims based on only a first name and school. Don’t take these details for granted. Instruct your family to keep all personal details private. The following is a list of what not to reveal online: First name, last name, age, sex, address, phone number, email address, church, club, place of employment, or any other identifying piece of information.
  4. Always keep an open line of communication with your kids. When setting your Internet parameters; discuss with your children the reasons behind these new rules. Let them know that you trust them, but as a parent, want to do everything possible to keep them from harm. Share current articles and statistics with them. Educate them on Internet Safety. Install filters to keep objectionable material out. And always make it clear to them that they can come to you no matter what.  An open line of communication is the most effective way to know what’s going on in with your children so that you can protect them. It's better safe than sorry.