Internet Security 3: The Worst Sort Of Predator.
This is a nasty, distasteful and distressing area to post a topic on but if it saves the happy childhood of one kid, it’ll be worth it. If you’re a parent, which I am, anything like this is tough going but I’d encourage you to read on.
I think it was Will Rogers who said it wasn’t what you didn’t know that could really hurt you; it was what you thought you knew. When it comes to predators, that’s very true. People tend to think a predator always goes after the biggest and strongest member of the herd but the opposite is true. They always go for the weak, the sickly and the young; a minimal amount of energy expended for the same amount of meat and with much less of a fight involved.
Internet predators of all varieties follow that same imperative. The particular type of predator I want to discuss is the sexual predator. Their prey is your children and realistically, there’s nothing between them and your children but you, which is why you need to know a few simple things and take some basic precautions. I’ll break this into three sections; some background information you need to know about this area, stuff you can do to make sure it never happens to your child and how to spot if it might be happening.
The predator will always go where the prey is. Access is everything and they’ll work very hard to get it. In the past, it was gaining employment in organisations that we trusted with the care of our children; schools, charities, orphanages, scouting movements, daycare facilities, religious bodies or the extended family. In the case of the internet, that’ll be analogous to getting involved with chat rooms, Facebook, instant messaging and other social networking media. There is nothing inherently evil about any of these places and they’ll form a part of your child’s normal social life in the twenty-first century, whether you understand or approve of them or not. You just have to be aware that if this threat happens to come in your child’s direction, it will come via one of these avenues, as well as the traditional ones.
You now know what has to be monitored.
Boys are just as likely to be targeted as girls and the fact that they’re very young is an inducement not a put off for these people. Older children and teenagers are also frequently targeted. What they will always home in on is innocence or vulnerability.
You need to know something else too, the predator may be female. It plays to a lot of politically correct sensibilities that this cannot be true but I’m afraid this area has a habit of overturning even our most precious delusions. After listening to the souvenir tape recordings Ian Brady and Myra Hindley made of themselves torturing and killing children, the judge in the case said she had to serve life without the possibility of parole too. Rosemary West, the wife of Fred West, is another case in point; some of the children being sexually abused and murdered were her own. There are a lot of other more recent cases.
The predator will go to any length to gain the confidence of the victim. This frequently involves posing as a child themselves and they are just as likely to assume male or female personas, irrespective of their own gender. Surprisingly but just as frequently, they’ll tell the child their true age if they sense the child is looking for parental love. Any lever will do. The aim is not just to gain the confidence of the child, it’s to gain their exclusive confidence.
They want to isolate the victim and cut them off from their parents.
This is initially done by empathising with the child and whatever travails they may be having at the time. When they have gained the trust of the child, the next step is to get something on them that they can pressure them with. This may be something nasty they’ve said online about Mum or Dad or even relatively innocent photographs of stuff they’ve done over web cams. This will be used as a blackmail threat; do what I ask or I’ll tell your parents what you’ve done. Gradually, inch by inch, they get sucked into a nightmare. Sickening as the thought is, a lot of paedophile pornography comes from children being blackmailed into doing stuff online into webcams.
The ultimate goal is to arrange a meeting in person and that’s about as far as I want to go in describing the background. I have the highest regard for the professionalism of the men and women who work in this area of law enforcement. You can see why they rotate them out of it after a relatively short period of time; enough stuff like this can rot your belief in anything decent about humanity. Few illusions are preserved. I’m not sure I could ever work that beat without losing it completely and strangling someone with their mouse cord.
Okay, enough of the horror, let’s move on to the things you need to do to protect your child. There are two really. The biggie is to talk to them honestly about the dark side of the internet. It’s that old conversation about not talking to strangers except that this time it’s not typing at strangers. You don’t have to frighten them, just tell them that there are people out there who may want to hurt them. Above all, you have to follow through. Talk to them on a regular basis about who they’ve met online, keep in touch with their online lives and look at the conversations they’re having with their cyber friends. Get comfortable with sitting beside them occasionally as they’re in a chat room or on Facebook. You’ll find it’s enjoyable, that’s why they do it after all.
The second thing is to position their computer in your living room or a common area, never out of sight in their bedroom. This is vital. If there’s something strange or untoward happening online, your child can ask you about it straight away. You may be able to pick up on it yourself, if only from their body language. It also makes it easy to keep in touch with their online activities and the people they’re meeting. Remember, the vast majority of the people they’ll be meeting will be genuine and children or young people like themselves, so don’t go too heavy on the monitoring. A collateral benefit is you’ll probably be taught a lot about computers and the social networking scene by your kids.
Finally, how do you spot if this sort of abuse may be happening? It comes down to how well you keep an eye on your children. The usual signs are; too much time spent online, excessive secrecy about what they’re doing there, plummeting performance at school, withdrawal and behavioural problems in general. There can of course be other reasons why your child is exhibiting such signs but it’s important that you realise cyber grooming can be one of them. You have to talk to them and be aware that they may be being blackmailed or pressured by the predator. Have that conversation with them bearing that in mind.
If you have a suspicion or it seems evident to you that they’re being groomed by a predator, talk to your local law enforcement straight away. It took a while, but they have caught up with this new avenue of criminality and handle it very well. The conversation your child was having with the predator will be resumed in their place by a police officer who will quickly pinpoint the exact location of the predator. They’ll take it from there. All this will be done with the complete assistance of the company hosting the chat room or venue, they’re just as anxious as everyone else to detect and apprehend such criminals.
Well, now you really know some stuff about an area you perhaps imagined you knew something about. The internet is too useful and enjoyable a thing for your children not to have access to it but ensure they’re aware of the dangers. Considering the number of people interacting on the internet, cyber grooming is rare but it does happen and a little knowledge and a few simple precautions will ensure it doesn’t happen to one of your children. I’ve covered the essentials here but if you want to learn more and I’d encourage you to do so, a quick google will give you a list of sites dedicated to just this topic.
The takeaways from this one are :
- Talk to your children and make them aware of the predators.
- Keep in touch with their online activities.
- Position their computer or the family computer somewhere visible and central.
UPDATE : Since putting this post up, I have noticed some hits on it originating from Google searches. I get to see the words being searched on too. From them it is plain that the searches are being done by young people and parents trying to cope with blackmail and other activities of internet predators.
I can only tell you that trying to cope with these criminals yourself is a mistake. Their demands always increase, as does the danger.
Talk to your parents. If that’s too hard, talk to a teacher you like. They should get in touch with the local police straight away by phone and make an appointment for a private interview and give the reason for it. Don’t worry, whatever they’re blackmailing you with will be ignored by the police. It is the predator who is committing a crime and the police will trace them in minutes.
Be brave and remember, when the police arrest them, it’ll stop them hurting other young people like they’ve hurt you.
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