At a workshop at the PCSAO (Public Children Services Association of Ohio) 2012 Conference, Detective Bobby Grizzard of the Massillon, Ohio, Police Department Special Investigations Unit shared risks children and teens face through the prevalence of online predators. Often, simple games, playful postings, photos or searches can turn up links to serious ‘bad guys’ within seconds. Most of the time, the perpetrator is misrepresenting him or herself to appear ‘cool’ to the unsuspecting child or teen; much younger, hipper, and safer. You don’t know who they really are.
It is easy for a child or adolescent to become a victim of a would-be predator or become prey to sexual trafficking, a growing problem in Ohio. Grizzard joined the FBI’s Crimes Against Children Task Force for Internet Crimes in 2002. He has investigated over 1,000 cases of child sexual exploitation since 1994. Coupled with the fact there are GPS devices, and location-specific information which can and will be used on an unsuspecting victim, there is growing concern for the safety of Ohio’s children. This goes beyond exposure to inappropriate material such as pornography to include extremist groups, exploitation, solicitation, harassment, stalking, prostitution, sexual slavery, trafficking or death- in the most extreme cases.
The problem is especially serious as there are over 750 million Facebook sites, 250 million Twitter sites and five new sites are launched every month with the purpose of misrepresenting oneself solely for the purpose of illicit connection. Even gaming, you don’t know who you’re playing with or against. Detective Grizzard explained that: 1) sexual offending has become popular and easy, 2) children are easily victimized and 3) parents are digitally stupid (so are cops). One of the central problems is that children are lured into sexual acts and the internet connection ‘gives them the false belief that it is normal’. Whether it’s through a game, a cell phone, a computer, the internet tends to transform a child’s life from private and personal to public and voids their privacy; there are no boundaries. A ‘child may believe that they are in love with the offender.’
The internet predators (‘offenders’) ‘groom’ their victim by befriending lonely children and lavishing them with attention, even gifts. The child feels they have gained a ‘special secret friend’ and often keeps the relationship secret. The scope of the problem is enormous as the detective showed statistics that there were over 24 million youth online in 2002; teens spend an average of 31 hours online; and 3 billion photos are exchanged. Therefore, ‘all kids are potential victims,’ and ‘kids are trusting’, explained the Detective. The child is at greater risk from the comfort of home than on the street.
In discussing enticement, he said that ‘1 in 6 will be solicited.’ There have been 675,000 reports of enticement since 1998. Music, commercials, movies, and the popular culture all promote sexuality in various forms, long before a child or adolescent is mature enough to fully understand or appreciate their vulnerability. Pre-teens 11-12 and teens age 13-15 are at greatest risk.
The Detective has developed a list of preventative and protective tips parents and guardians can take. Perhaps the most important single thing is communication and trust between a parent and child. Keep privacy settings high; don’t use GPS (geographic tracking systems) and take care with who you befriend, or share photos with, keeping in mind that people you might not ‘friend’, often ‘back door’ it into your life. Keep a computer in a public place and make it a point to know who/what and where your children are, and who they are friends with. Do not assume the Facebook profile you see is the only one they have. Covert activities could cost an adolescent dearly. Make sure the risks are clear.
For more information:
. . . “a preliminary report on the scope of the problem in Ohio cited 13 years old as the most common age in Ohio for youth to become victims of child sex trafficking. From the study’s sample of 207 individuals, 49 percent were under 18 when they were first trafficked. Nationally, over 100,000 children are thought to be involved in the sex trade. To combat this problem and end this horrendous abuse, Attorney General Mike DeWine reconvened the Human Trafficking Commission in August of 2011” . . . . read more at:
Here are internet safety tips for teens from the Center for Missing and Exploited Children
For younger teens:
[Photo credit: Young runaway teen by Vvvstep Dreamstime.com 1286236]