It’s 10 p.m., and you know where your child is—on the computer, surfing the Internet. If so, say legislators and law enforcement officials, the truth is, you have no idea where your kid is or who he or she may be chatting with online—or possibly arranging to meet. Perverts are using the world’s superhighway to prey on your children. How can you keep them safe?
Maggie, 16 years old, says it’s no big deal.
She doesn’t want us to print her last name because, understandably, she doesn’t want her mom and dad to read this and find out what she and her friend, Gillian, have been up to. (When Gillian is about to give her last name, Maggie gives her a look and she, too, is quiet.)
The two have been hanging out at the McKinley Park Library, “fooling around” on the computers with classmates, and they admit that, just for kicks, they try clever ways to access stuff they’re not supposed to see. It’s almost impossible, Maggie admits, because the library has filters that screen searches for objectionable material. “Security high-tech nerd stuff,” Gillian calls it.
Maggie and Gillian play another fun computer game at home. “It’s like what kids used to do with prank phone calls, stuff like that,” Maggie explains. The Sacramento teenager, who doesn’t have her driver’s license yet, will log on to the Internet, lure a “creepy perv” into a “private chat,” and arrange to meet him somewhere in the mall or “some other public place,” she says with a shrug.
“We laugh for hours, thinking about the loser looking around for us, going up to teenage girls,” Maggie smiles, glancing at her pal.
“I think they get what they deserve,” Gillian interjects.
The girls don’t actually go to meet these “pervs.” Not so far, anyway.
But the two of them talk about how funny it would be to maybe drive to the mall one day and watch this guy from a distance—or even, suggests Gillian, have some guys from school tag along and scare the pervert.
Maggie says she has flirted with and arranged to meet “tons” of guys—some normal-sounding ones but mostly creepy pervs, she says—since she started going online regularly about a year and a half ago. She can’t even put a number on it. “Probably two or three a day,” she guesses.
Maggie doesn’t even have a page on MySpace—the popular social networking website where users (adults and teenagers alike) post personal profiles, scan other personal profiles, check out links to new music and such, display pictures of friends and chat with or e-mail anyone (and we do mean anyone) who wants to chat. Instead, Maggie has an EarthLink account that’s linked with her dad’s; he foots the bill. The family computer is in her dad’s office, a quiet workspace in the back of the house that her father uses only late at night and sometimes on weekends. Maggie doesn’t have a computer in her bedroom. Not yet, anyway, she says.
Dad doesn’t have too many questions about what she does online. And as for Mom? “She doesn’t even know how to turn the computer on,” Maggie says. “Anytime she has to use it, I have to help her.”
Dad’s indifference and Mom’s ignorance are putting Maggie at risk, say experts. While personal computers are in most American homes these days, many with high-speed Internet connections able to download reams of material in the time it takes to take a sip of Coke, not everyone knows how to control their use—and abuse. “It’s like having a loaded gun sitting on your kitchen table when your kids come home from school,” says Bob Lozito, a sergeant with the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department and head of our area’s high-tech crime task force.
According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, published in 2004, Internet “penetration” (their word, not ours) has reached 73 percent for all American adults. According to that report, 87 percent of teenagers ages 12–17 use the Internet, about 21 million youths. Of those, 87 percent (about 19 million kids) have Internet access at home; the rest have access at cybercafes, friends’ homes, libraries, schools and community centers.
Those who haven’t logged on—many being parents of teens who have, like Maggie’s mom—have no idea what’s going on online. According to the Pew study, parents who do not use the Internet themselves are much less likely to employ safety tools such as filters than all other Internet users.
It’s probably safe to assume these parents also are unaware of the following statistics collected by the U.S. Department of Justice:
* One in five young Internet users surveyed received an “unwanted sexual solicitation” in the past year while online; 5 percent received what they described as a distressing sexual solicitation; 3 percent received an “aggressive solicitation” involving requests for offline contact. Seventy-seven percent of those solicited were between the ages of 14 and 17; 22 percent of solicitations were directed at kids ages 10–13.
* Two-thirds of those solicited were female, one-third male. Despite that, 68 percent of parents of boys report checking up on their sons’ web surfing, compared to 55 percent of parents of girls. (Two out of five online teen boys say they don’t mind this, compared to one-quarter of online teen girls.) Seventy percent of parents of kids ages 10–14 report checking up on their children’s Internet activity, compared to 55 percent of parents of teens age 15–17.
* Seventy percent of all solicitations took place on the young user’s home computer; the remaining 30 percent happened at someone else’s home.
Of these solicitations, two-thirds occurred in online chat rooms, while 24 percent were received via instant messages—both instantaneous forms of online communication.
The bottom line? Quick as the click of a mouse, it’s there: a salacious message, a graphic image, a pornographic suggestion.
In fact, according to the Pew study (which was not done online and questioned parent and young users separately), one in 10 of all online teens reported having “logged off altogether” at the time of the survey because they’d had bad experiences or because they did not feel safe. Only 18 percent of such incidents commonly are reported, usually to Internet providers by parents or by the young users themselves.
The “Dateline NBC” series To Catch a Predator has been followed by 10 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research, and has been its highest ratings-grabber of the 2006 season. For three seasons, television audiences have cheered as reporter Chris Hansen has profiled the methods and operations of Perverted-Justice, a citizen’s action group. Going undercover for months, years even, in Riverside County, Calif., Queens, N.Y, Fairfax, Va., Greenville, Ohio and Ft. Myers, Fla., “Dateline” and Perverted-Justice have set up Internet identities and hired adult actresses to pose as 13-year-old girls for Web cameras to lure men to rented homes, where they think they’re going have sex with an underage girl. Lawyers, corporate executives, a rabbi, even a sixth-grade teacher, showed up at various points during the five investigations. One man arrived with his 5-year-old son in tow. At press time, 97 arrests—all men—had been made in conjunction with the series. Once busted, several men insisted they wanted to “just talk” to the 13- or 14-year-old girl they had arranged to meet. Some had actually seen the series on television and in the post-bust interview admitted that despite this, they couldn’t resist the temptation. In several cases, the men admitted on-air they had “sensed” the meeting they had arranged was “phony.” Yet still they arrived, one after another, alcohol, drugs, condoms in possession, for their prearranged meeting with what they expected to be a willing minor at home alone.
Bits of the series were aired on other networks, including Fox and MSNBC. The chilling footage outraged viewers, many of whom might be further incensed to learn that controversy exists about the privacy and personal possession rights of the men involved. This debate has interfered with the implementation of filters and other online security tools designed to identify and block the kind of objectionable material such individuals are sending to young Internet users.
The Federal Child Online Protection Act, passed in 1998, required websites containing “material harmful to minors” to use age verification systems (e.g., asking for credit card information) to ensure that site visitors were age 18 or older, the logic being that one had to be 18 or acquire the consent of an individual older than 18 to own a credit card. The American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups brought suit against the U.S. government, arguing that COPA is an unconstitutional infringement on the free speech and privacy of adults. Pending a trial to assess COPA’s constitutionality via a 2004 Supreme Court ruling, any and all enforcement of the act is banned.
Also at the center of the privacy controversy are Internet filters such as NannyNet and CyberPatrol, which allow users to block access to Web content and sites. Today, 54 percent of Internet-connected families nationally use filters, compared to 41 percent in December 2000. Overall, the use of Internet filters has nearly doubled, from 7 million to 12 million in six years.
Why are distributors of pornography upset about the growing availability and use of filters? The Internet has become their largest marketplace. At investigative Senate committee hearings in November 2004, experts at the Sexual Trauma and Psychopathy Program at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center For Cognitive Therapy insisted that pornography is “the new crack cocaine.” The information superhighway is the ideal way to distribute it and receive it—anonymously. “The Internet allows this drug to be pumped into your house 24/7,” testified Mary Anne Layden, the center’s co-director, “making it the perfect delivery system.”
A system, Layden pointed out, that children know how to use better than adults do.
It’s enough to throw parents into a frenzy; enough to make any parent with a computer in the house pull the plug and go back to a round-dial landline. Or homing pigeons.
Bob Lozito understands that. But from behind his desk at the Sacramento Valley Hi-Tech Crimes Task Force, a bureau of the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, Lozito appears confident and in control, answering emotional questions about Internet predators rationally and completely, all the while darting his eyes to his computer screen every few minutes. His organization investigates not only Internet porn and solicitation but identity theft and other crimes that have escalated since America logged on more than 10 years ago. Lozito agrees that, in California especially, Internet safety is a huge issue.
“But just try keeping your kids offline,” he challenges. “Understand the demographic target of technology today,” he explains, speaking specifically about the cell phones involved in e-mail chats and the level of Internet access available to the public, anywhere, everywhere. “It’s not aimed at corporate America, not senior citizens. It’s [aimed at] the youth. Technology is such that you can go anywhere. It’s a portable platform—and kids gravitate to whatever is easiest, whatever is coolest, whatever others are doing. And kids who are exploring this stuff prefer to do it in secret, avoiding potential conflict at home.”
They’ll wait until no one’s around or paying attention; they’ll use the computer in the back office (or in their own rooms); they’ll use a computer at someone else’s house; they’ll instant message kids they know and people they don’t on their cell phones.
In fact, according to studies, parents and teens actually agree that teens are not careful enough online. Both believe teens do things online that their parents would not approve of. Studies have found some 65 percent of all parents and 64 percent of all teens say teens do things online that they wouldn’t want their parents to know about.
Janet Cross, mother of four daughters ages 14, 12, 9 and 6, says she would prefer to keep her kids off the Internet during the week and any time she’s not around. But, she says, this is impossible, not so much because her girls like spending time online, but because they need to get online to do their homework.
“Whatever happened to looking something up in the encyclopedia?” she wonders out loud, explaining that her children—even her youngest—do computer research. “We’re getting to the point in our house that we’ll need another computer, because I’ll be clicking my daughters out and clicking on to check my own e-mail,” Cross reports.
She randomly reads her oldest daughter’s e-mails and instant messages, which, to her relief, so far consist mostly of discussions about television programs and after-school snacks. “The most boring stuff ever,” she reports, laughing. “But I know some of my 14-year-old’s friends have had some nasty experiences online. And I know I’m not seeing all of it—or even most of it.”
How does her teenage daughter feel about Mom reading her e-mails? Doesn’t matter, says Cross. The rules are the rules, just like with anything else that involves her daughters’ safety, she says, while admitting that she knows they will hop online when she’s not around.
Of course, she finds that disconcerting. “I’d prefer to keep all of my daughters offline most of the time because I consider computer time like TV time, and they’re not allowed to watch TV on weekdays. But [online restrictions] are not always possible.”
Cross says the issue is not lost on other parents: The topic of computer use recently came up at her daughter’s middle school PTA meeting. Cross says parents are becoming increasingly concerned that their kids are required by teachers to spend more and more time on the computer—at younger and younger ages. Awareness and education are needed within the educational system, parents like Cross say.
According to Lozito, awareness and education already are there: Detectives from the sheriff’s department, including those from Lozito’s unit, regularly visit the area’s middle and elementary schools, discussing Internet safety with school administrators, teachers, students and parents.
But he insists that communication between these groups, specifically between parents and their children, continues to be a problem when targeting, identifying and curtailing Internet solicitation. Cracking down or limiting access—or denying it altogether—wouldn’t work anyway, says Lozito.
“Parents want to believe their kids,” says the father of three, including one teenager. “Kids are very savvy. They communicate selective information to parents, information about what they’re told and what goes on in their lives that belies some of the activity that goes on. If they want to get online, they’re going to get online.”
Rob, 14, is an example of this. He’s spending a Saturday afternoon skateboarding with his friends when asked about “bad Internet experiences—if any one has ever sent him objectionable material.”
He’s not sure what I mean by “objectionable material.” But he knows what porn is. And he and all his friends laugh. He gets some from his friends, he says, and he knows where and how to find it. “Everyone does,” says a 14-year-old girl in his group, giggling.
“Chat rooms . . . you [instant message] people and they’ll usually ask you to send pictures or they’ll offer to send you some,” Rob explains.
He checks it out “the same way, like, my dad checked out his dad’s Playboys.” He figures if something is too disturbing, he doesn’t have to look at it. “I can click out.”
Rob’s mom got “all freaked out” by all the stuff she was seeing on the news, he guesses, and had a tutor come out and show her how to check her son’s recent computer activity. After discovering Rob’s online odysseys, she grounded him from using the computer at all for two weeks. Now, still on probation, he can use the computer only while she’s there to supervise, “right over my shoulder.”
He shrugs. “So I just use the computer at my friend’s house.”
For these kids, checking out the sketchy stuff online is no big deal. What they don’t realize, insists Lozito, is that doing so can make them targets for sexual molestation.
Learn the Language
Not sure what your child is talking about online? Often a glance at a chat looks coded. It is. Here are some common chat terms and what they mean:
A/S/L: Age/sex/location. Predators and others use this to receive and relay information that narrows down selections for private chats.
BBL: Be back later
BRB: Be right back
CB: Ciao, baby
FBI: I’ll look into it
F2T: Free to talk
HAK: Hugs and kisses
POS: Parent over shoulder
P911: Parent alert or parent nearby
Rotf: Rolling on the floor
TTFN: Ta-ta for now
Detectives who set up local sting operations over the Internet find that kids as young as kindergartners are targeted, the most common victims of solicitation being prepubescent children. “These guys like to [target] the very young adolescent,” says Lozito. “Once you hit puberty, that’s crossing into the adult spectrum for them.”
He assures parents (if assures is indeed the right word) that snagging potential predators is like casting a fishing line in a stocked pond: “Almost immediately, there’s response from all over the world.”
But, as with fishing, he explains, you need to know what kind of bait to use out there: the sites predators frequent, the types of conversations they have, the language they use. “You can set up a MySpace page or enter a chat room about anything—soccer, school, grades—mention your age, and literally hundreds of suspects will swarm in. They may be talking to 100 kids at a time.”
We tried this, and it’s true: If you go into a one-on-one private chat with someone you met in a chat room, there generally is a delay in response time. It’s because the predator is, as Lozito explains, chatting with many children at the same time, looking for that one who seems willing to take it a step further: a phone call, a meeting, sending “pictures” (often pornographic, either at first or progressively).
In California, none of this is illegal in and of itself. “It’s the suggesting of sexual activity that is against the law,” Lozito says.
Sacramento is way ahead of the curve when it comes to fighting this form of Internet crime: The first office in the country was established here in 1999. Of the 46 such bureaus operating nationwide today, five of them are in California—partly because of the denser population here, but also, Lozito says, because child pornography is a major problem in our state. As opposed to Arizona, where possession of one item of child pornography constitutes a felony that could land you in jail for four years, in California you can be in possession of “boatloads” of child pornography, as much as you want. It’s only a felony if you have a prior conviction; otherwise, it’s only a misdemeanor. If you send child pornography with the intent to arouse or
sexually gratify a minor, the second, third, fourth time, in the state of California, it is a felony.
“We are working with prosecutors and legislators to get the legal teeth we need to fight this, to take possession [of child pornography] seriously,” says Lozito, identifying possession, coupled with distribution, as two behaviors that lead to the physical act of molestation the vast majority of the time.
“Our investigations demonstrate repeatedly that people who have molested children have owned or been in possession of child porn,” he says. “We believe this is where it starts, and that if we could stop these predators at this stage and be able to prosecute at the felony level for these crimes, as you can elsewhere, we might be better able to prevent a substantial number of the molestations that do occur.”
Swamped with reports of crimes that, at present, constitute only a misdemeanor, such as possession of child pornography (or simply viewing it in one’s own home and not distributing it), law enforcement officials must concentrate on the felonies: the molestations (often not by first-time offenders), “the most nefarious criminals out there” and “the most heinous crimes; the torture and rape of infants,” for example, says Lozito. Distributing films (passing them from one source to another) of these acts is considered more egregious than collecting photos of a 14-year-old, so that’s where most efforts here in California are concentrated. “There are very sick people out there, without a doubt,” says Lozito.
In the face of the national media frenzy on the subject, here in Sacramento Bob Lozito urges calm. “We have a very healthy relationship with the [U.S. Attorney], McGregor Scott,” Lozito reports, also naming legislators who are working to toughen child abuse laws: state senators Liz Figueroa, D-Fremont (who regularly holds Senate hearings about Internet safety with organizations such as Netwise, an Internet research group that educates parents about Internet-use safety) and Charles “Chuck” Poochigian, R-Fresno (co-sponsor of Jessica’s Law, a bill slotted for the state ballot in November that will increase penalties for child molesters and put into effect other restrictions). Lozito’s agency has worked directly with the U.S. Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, and he is happy to report that this is a bipartisan issue. “Everyone recognizes how vulnerable [children are].”
Not everyone, says a source within Poochigian’s office. “Jessica’s Law is a compilation of laws that have been rejected by the Assembly and the Senate,” the source explains, adding that passage of AB 50—another measure that makes possession of even just one item of child pornography a felony—met with substantial resistance as well. Those who reject these measures and bills do so for numerous reasons: They don’t believe incarceration works to rehabilitate offenders, or they believe that viewing child pornography in the privacy of one’s own home—as opposed to distributing it—should not be criminalized. “It appears as if some of these individuals are more concerned with the rights of the person soliciting and abusing children than they are with the rights of the children who fall victim to these crimes,” says the source.
Poochigian, who is vice-chair of the Public Safety Committee, expresses frustration as well. “Californians expect their lawmakers to take action to track down and lock up sex offenders who prey on children on the Internet,” he says. “We shouldn’t have to wait for children to become victims before we impose serious criminal penalties on sexual predators. Jessica’s Law is headed for the ballot and will allow voters to give law enforcement the tools needed to pursue and prosecute online predators who seek out minors for sexual abuse. [But] it shouldn’t take a ballot measure to spur the Legislature into doing the right thing.”
Citizens, including anxious and outraged parents, must work within the current system. Lozito is critical of the popular “Dateline” arrangement with Perverted-Justice, which he identifies as a vigilante group that doesn’t “play by the rules [that we have to play by]” and, as a result, risks not only violating people’s civil rights, but more importantly, obstructing the possibility of legally convicting the perpetrators. “In many of these cases, a criminal is going to walk,” Lozito explains.
“We don’t solicit the public’s help for undercover operations,” he adds. “When we have used [a member of] the public in a specific sting, we are careful to protect that individual and produce evidence that we can use in court through the legal process.”
He adds that programs such as To Catch a Predator expose techniques used by law enforcement. “These shows teach how to avoid detection,” he says. And possibly as a result of this programming, predators may be getting better at “sniffing out a phony,” admits Lozito, although he tells us that, based on his bureau’s continuous investigations, “these guys are [still] falling all over themselves to get to these kids.”
When it comes to identifying, cultivating and growing victims, many predators are experts, spending months chatting with selected children, Googling for more information on the child and the surroundings the child mentions (perhaps unintentionally), setting up meetings. And it can take time to catch them: The March 27 arrest of a 25-year-old Sacramento State student on felony-level possession of child pornography was the result of multiple law enforcement agencies working together: the FBI, Sacramento State’s police department and Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department. The investigation began in May 2005; the suspect was arrested nearly a year later and now faces 20 years in prison if convicted.
The timetable often required to put these guys away is frustrating, Lozito admits, but he insists that their apprehension is best left to the pros.
With the Internet so prevalent in our daily lives, what can parents do to keep their families safe?
Lozito warns parents that Internet predators prey on kids who are “struggling in their family dynamic”—a young girl or boy looking for a father figure, for example. (Young boys are not as commonly targeted as young girls, according to Lozito and “Online Victimization: A Report on the Nation’s Youth.” See sidebar “What’s Happening Online.”)
“Some use brute force—send offensive e-mails from the start,” explains Lozito, “but some are very patient, courting these kids for months before suggesting anything and are usually talking to hundreds of kids at the same time.” Some are talked into running away from home.
Lozito insists parents need to understand the power of the computer. “You wouldn’t leave your front door open or let your kid roam the streets at 3 in the morning, yet that’s what you do when you allow kids on these types of devices you do not really understand. You’re literally logging on all over the world. Don’t think that because your child is in the home that he or she is safe.”
In Maggie’s house, who knows enough about the Internet (or cares enough about its dangers) to sit down with her and explain that these “creepy pervs” she’s toying with might figure out a way—through a computer link or a series of seemingly harmless questions over time—to track her down?
Seeking to contact Maggie further, I dial the cell phone number she wrote down for me—the cell phone she was checking every few minutes for instant messages from a guy (hopefully a teenager) she was “majorly crushing on.”
Not surprisingly, it was the wrong number.
Maggie’s evidently not dumb enough to tell an adult all that and then give her real cell phone number.
But adults need to be aware, and it’s imperative that they explain these risks to kids, Lozito stresses. To scare them straight or clamp down or make the technology not available to them doesn’t always work. And neither will overreaction. An honest, open relationship with your child needs to be established long before he or she has logged on.
“Ask about everyday occurrences in life,” Lozito says. “Get a sense of where your child is. And when it comes time to have these discussions, listen more than you talk.”
Here is a transcript from a chat room conversation [ICQ teen chat room] that took place around 4 p.m., Tuesday, May 2, 2006. Freelance writer Liz Marxen, 22, posed as a 15-year-old girl. (She is “Me.”) Pay attention to the tactics Lozito describes: Each person she’s chatting with has pulled her into a private chat from a larger group chat, asks for A/S/L (age/sex/location), asks for pictures and talks about possibly meeting with her.
These chatters could be telling the truth—they may actually be teenagers. But if “Me” were your teenager, would you be comfortable with the risk that “Cuteboy” actually is a 55-year-old convicted sex offender? Because, Lozito points out, he could be.
Cuteboy: R u want cuteboy?
Me: 15 f cali
C: R u like crassy chat
C: Cyber… with webcam
Me: Don’t have a web cam
Me: Do you have pics?
C: Give msn
Me: I don’t have msn
C: Give address
Me: So we can meet?
C: Email address
Sports23: 15 M Cali
Me: 14 f cali
S: were in Cali
Me: Sacramento area
S: were abouts
S: u single
Me: very single
S: Me Tooo
Me: do you like sports?
Me: do you play?
Me: oh wow
Me: that’s very cool
Me: you must be in shape
Me: ha ha
Me: I am a cheerleader
S: I have a cut body wit a yummy 6 pack
Me: I like that
S: Im dark skin
S: brown eyes
S: hott as hell
Me: Sounds like it
Me: thin, tall, very tan
Me: blue eyes
S: u sound hotttttt
Me: I am
Me: What do you like to do?
S: Play Basketball
S: 4 now since Im Single
Me: did you have a gf?
S: wanna hook up
S: U go A #
S: u have cell
Me: where to meet?
S: U wanna go out I mean
Me: Untill I could drive
Me: what should we do?
S: we’re going out right
S: you have any type of #
Me: not by me
Me: I lost my cell
Me: what would we do?
Me: what kinda car u have?
S: not yet
S: you don’t have a house phone
Me: I don’t want my mom to answer
Me: maybe I could call u?
Allison Wagda, general manager of Zone Labs, a company that creates and sells Internet security systems, offers the following tips for keeping kids safe on the Internet:
1. Know your computer. Anyone who brings a computer into a home with children should know how that computer works. Parents should take computer classes, if necessary, to understand what kind of security systems they’ll need, what kind of tools are available, and ways to prevent “phishing,” spam and viral infection.
2. The same rules that apply out in the world apply to the Internet. Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t allow children to visit chat rooms unsupervised.
3. Make sure children watch what online sites they frequent; parents should, too, because children may accidentally visit sites that parents, or other online account guests, frequent.
4. A sudden onslaught of pornographic or otherwise inappropriate spam may be an indication that someone using your account or linked to your account is visiting inappropriate websites, via pop-ups or other methods.
5. If anyone sends explicit or inappropriate material to your child, contact your Internet provider, especially if your child is encouraged to meet with another user he or she does not know.
6. Keep the computer in a public place in the house. Do not allow children to get online when you aren’t at home to supervise.
7. Instruct older children—especially those with access to a computer outside the home—to use the computer responsibly. Delete e-mails from anyone they don’t know, don’t open attachments from strangers, don’t share password or log in information, and don’t fill out online forms.
8. Parents with teens should have access to a child’s password and account(s).
9. Parents should be familiar with common chat terms, such as POS (parent over shoulder) and F2T (free to talk).
Zone Labs’ Internet security programs including an all-in-one security “suite,” ZoneAlarm, that includes a firewall, parental controls, Web filtering, instant message security, and anti-virus, anti-Spyware, anti-spam and anti-phishing service. The basic ZoneAlarm runs $59.95. (Information is available at zonelabs.com.)
Software that provides security watches (shuts down the computer when objectionable material is downloaded, then replays later for detection purposes), limits time on the computer, blocks spam and scans for viruses is available from the following sources:
Parents also should consider installing filters that prevent teens from entering their phone numbers, addresses or other personal information online, or obtaining monitoring software that will disclose if your child does enter personal information online.
Our MySpace Project
MySpace, the popular social networking website, boasts 56 million users of all ages. Of the social websites, including Friendster, Facebook, Xanga and LiveJournal, MySpace is the largest—and right now, the one under the most scrutiny regarding safety issues.
We posted the following profile on MySpace.com. Below it are some of the responses we received.
Hi y’all! i’m sexy n 16 (wellll, ookay, almost) and cn’t wait to gradu8. i love soccer and vball and hangn out w/new friends. 5 7ish, i weigh 120 lbs, have brown hair and blu eyes. people tell me i look like rory gilmore but i dress nicer. it would be nice to have a bfriend but I’d rather have lots of bfriends. Am looking for new nice fun friends to do stuff with. Oh and sorry bout not havin’ a pic of myself up . . . my mom is a little over-protective!
• A Rancho Cordova male in his early 20s, who lists drinking and sex as two of his interests
• A 27-year-old male, also from Rancho Cordova, whose page features a dancing blonde taking off her bikini top and a spoof on the universal handicapped sign with a man in a wheelchair and a woman performing oral sex on him
• Another graphic, a spoof on a “Warning! Choking Hazard” sign with a stick figure with breasts performing oral sex on a male stick figure
• A post about “What’s Your Sex Spot?” which lists supposed people’s favorite places to have sex based on their astrological signs. (The poster, a Libra, likes to have sex “on the teacher’s school desk,” for example. Other spots include the elevator, the hot tub, in the back row at the movies.)
• A 22-year-old female posing nude in various sexual positions
• Numerous postings with marijuana leaves and references to illegal drug use
• Four posters, all male and in their 30s, asking for pictures so they know we’re “not a fake”
What’s Going On Online
“Online Victimization: A Report on the Nation’s Youth,” released by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in June 2000, gathered Internet users, parents and their children, and administered the questions first to parents and then to their children. According to this report, the following occurred online or as a result of online activity:
• An 11-year-old boy and a friend, searching for game sites, typed in “fun.com” and a porn site came up.
• A 15-year-old boy looking for information about his family’s car typed “escort” into a search engine and a site about an escort service popped up.
• Working on a school report about wolves, a teenage boy accidentally clicked on a bestiality site and saw a picture of a woman having sex with a wolf.
• Typing in “teeen” instead of teen, a teenage girl got a porn site.
• A 13-year-old boy who was a wrestling fan opened an unsolicited e-mail with “wrestling” in the subject line. It contained pornography.
• A 13-year-old girl was asked her bra size.
• A 14-year-old girl was sent e-mail from men claiming to be 18 to 20 years old asking for her measurements and what she looked like; the men knew her age.
• A 12-year-old girl said people told her sexual things they were doing and asked her to play with herself.
• A 15-year-old girl reported that an older man asked her if she was a virgin and wanted to meet her.
• A 13-year-old boy reported that a girl asked him how big his privates were and wanted him to “jack off.”
• A 13-year-old boy said a man e-mailed a picture of himself having sex with a dog.
In almost half of the reported incidents, the solicited youth did not tell anyone what had happened (until the time of the survey).
In 24 percent of incidents reported, the youth told a parent; 29 percent told another youth or a sibling.
* For More Information About Internet Safety
The Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire: unh.edu/ccrc/index/html
National Center For Missing & Exploited Children (800) THE LOST (800-843-5678), cybertipline.com, missingkids.com