Let’s play a little comparison game. I’ve used some of these videos in previous posts, but when we see them side by side, they cause us to ask good questions about what the real threat of Internet predators is really all about.
What impressions you are left with after watching each video?
One of these things is not like the other . . .
Video #1: The Allure of Sugar Plum (about 1 minute)
Video #2: Clare Thought She Knew (about 3 Minutes)
Video #3: Virtual Global Task Force (about 1 minute)
Compare and Contrast
To start, let’s compare the messages of the first two videos. First, some similarities: both depict younger girls, both had unmonitored Internet access at home, and both make contact with an Internet predator.
But the differences are stark. In the first video the adult predator deceives the girl by lying about his age, gender and intentions in order to lure her out of her house. In the second video there is no hint of these deceptions: the predator is clear about whom he is and his intentions.
This difference highlights one of the major misconceptions about online predators: rarely do predators deceive their victims about their age, gender, and “romantic” intentions. Children are rarely lured into a predator’s trap with this sort of deception. Instead, a predator usually appeals to a young person’s desire to be appreciated and understood and will usually appeal to the young person’s inclination for risk-taking and sexual relations (much like the second video depicts).
Another contrast between these videos is the slight age difference between the girls. The first video portrays a girl who is 10 years old; the girl in the second video is probably older (evidenced by her romantic intentions). This is also a major misconception about online predators: predators that use the Internet rarely go after ten year-olds. Most Internet sex crimes involve youth 12 and up, usually between the ages of 13 and 15.
The third video shows more of what goes into catching an online predator. It portrays three different young people using the Internet. The first two people seem to be using the Internet in harmless ways, but the third, a young lady, seems to be flirting online. Only a few seconds later in the video we come to find out that this “girl” is actually a detective in a cyber-crime unit trying to catch a predator. This video, like the first, shows the predator being deceptive about his age. However, like in the second video, this one reveals that the riskiest activity online is using the Internet to flirt or talk about sex.
Dealing with the Real Problems
With this knowledge, how do we change the way we approach the subject of Internet safety with our own children? We start by understanding and communicating what the REAL problems are.
What are common public impressions of Internet sex crimes? Dr. D. Finkelhor of the Crimes Against Children Research Center states,
“If you think about what the public impression is about this crime, it’s really that we have these internet pedophiles who’ve moved from the playground into your living room through the internet connection, who are targeting young children by pretending to be other children who are lying about their ages and their identities and their motives, who are tricking kids into disclosing personal information about themselves or harvesting that information from blogs or websites or social networking sites. Then armed with this information, these criminals stalk children. They abduct them. They rape them, or even worse.”
But these impressions do not match up with the majority of the data about Internet predators.
The problem is not a teen having a social networking profile (such as Myspace or Facebook) or publishing personal information online. Research shows that merely giving out some personal information does not put a teen at risk for being targeted by a predator. Why? Because in this day and age everyone does this. There are simple, proactive safety measures a teen can take using these sites (such as making his / her profile private and not speaking indiscriminately with strangers online). Research shows that most teens who use these sites understand the basic safety rule that they learned in kindergarten also applies to online safety: Don’t talk to strangers.
The real problem occurs when a teen is willing to talk about sex online. Teens who release sexually oriented information, erotic pictures, or express interest in romance are typically the ones most at risk. This means that the biggest preventative measure against Internet predators is helping to shape the character and loving security of our children. When a young woman doesn’t think she is beautiful or desirable, she may look to the Internet for someone who will give her that affirmation. When a young man is wrestling with sexual orientation issues and is not getting his questions answered in the home or at school, he may look to the Internet community for those answers.
Dr. Finkelhor gives an example and explains the implications:
“Jenna—this is a pretty typical case—13-year-old girl from a divorced family, frequented sex-oriented chat rooms, had the screen name ‘Evil Girl.’ There she met a guy who, after a number of conversations, admitted he was 45. He flattered her, gave—sent her gifts, jewelry. They talked about intimate things. And eventually, he drove across several states to meet her for sex on several occasions in motel rooms. When he was arrested in her company, she was reluctant to cooperate with the law enforcement authorities.
“Many of these cases have commonalities with this particular instance. In seventy-three percent of the crimes, the youth go to meet the offender on multiple occasions for multiple sexual encounters. The law enforcement investigators described the victims as being in love with or feeling a close friendship for the offenders in half the cases that they investigated. In a quarter of the cases, the victims actually had run away from home to be with these adults that they met online.”
As parents and educators our role is to understand the real risks and come together in our communities and schools to talk about what can be done to help our teens on a deeper level than just crime prevention.