Using Internet communication tools such as chat rooms, e-mail and instant messaging can put children at risk of encountering online predators. The anonymity of the Internet means that trust and intimacy can develop quickly online. Predators take advantage of this anonymity to build online relationships with inexperienced young people.
The most serious problem imaginable is a child who turns up missing or is molested as a result of an online contact. Most of these cases do not involve strangers bursting into homes and stealing young kids; they are almost always young people who have left home on their own volition, usually after “meeting” someone online (“luring” is the term for online behaviour that leads to these meetings). The vast majority of them are over 15 and female. What we have here isn’t a case of bad guys snatching children; it’s mainly teenagers exercising poor judgement. Nevertheless, luring is illegal, and if a child meets someone online whom you perceive to be a threat to their physical safety, contact law enforcement.
How do predators work?
- Predators establish contact with kids through conversations in chat rooms, instant messaging, e-mail or discussion boards
- Many teens use “peer support” online forums to deal with their problems. Predators often go to these online areas to look for vulnerable victims
- Online predators try to gradually seduce their targets through attention, affection, kindness, and even gifts. They often devote considerable time, money and energy to this effort
- Predators are aware of the latest
- Predators listen to and sympathize with kids’ problems. They also try to ease young people’s inhibitions by gradually introducing sexual content into their conversations or by showing them sexually explicit material
- Some predators work faster than others, engaging in sexually explicit conversations immediately. This more direct approach may include harassment or stalking
- Predators may also evaluate the kids they meet online for future face-to-face contact
Which young people are at risk?
Young adolescents are the most vulnerable age group and are at high risk of being approached by online predators. Why?
- They are exploring their sexuality, moving away from parental control and looking for new relationships outside the family
- Under the guise of anonymity, they are more likely to take risks online without fully understanding the possible implications
- Young people who are most vulnerable to online predators tend to be:
- New to online activity and unfamiliar with ‘Netiquette’
- Actively seeking attention or affection
- Isolated or lonely
- Confused regarding sexual identity
- Easily tricked by adults
- Attracted by subcultures apart from their parents’ world
How can I minimize the risk of my child becoming a victim?
- Talk to your children about sexual predators and potential online dangers
- Young children shouldn’t use chat rooms. Period. The dangers are too great. However, if you allow the use of chat rooms in your home encourage your children to use monitored chat rooms
- Instruct your children to never leave the chat room’s public area. Many chat rooms offer private areas where users can have one-on-one chats with other users. Chat monitors can’t read these conversations
- Tell your children to never respond to instant messaging or e-mails from strangers
- If all precautions fail and a child does meet an online predator, don’t blame the child. The offender (the adult, online predator) always bears full responsibility
How can children reduce the risk of being victimized?
There are a number of precautions you can teach your children to take:
- Never download images from an unknown source – they could be sexually explicit
- Tell an adult immediately if anything happens online that makes them feel uncomfortable or frightened
- Choose a gender-neutral screen name that doesn’t contain sexually suggestive words or reveal personal information
- Never reveal personal information (including age and gender) to anyone online and not filling out online personal profiles
- Create and post a family online agreement by the computer to remind your children to protect their privacy on the Internet
How can I tell if my child is being targeted?
- The child or teen spends a great deal of time online: Most children who are victims of online predators spend a lot of time online, particularly in chat rooms
- The parents find pornography on the family computer: Predators often use pornography to sexually victimize children – supplying it to open sexual discussions with potential victims. Predators may use child pornography to convince a child that adults having sex with children is “normal.” Be aware that a child may hide pornographic files on discs, especially if other family members use the computer
- A child or teen receives phone calls from people you don’t know; or makes calls (sometimes long distance) to numbers you don’t recognize: Online predators may try to contact young people to engage in “phone sex,” or to try to set up a real-world meeting. If kids hesitate giving out their home phone number, online sex offenders will provide theirs. Some even have toll-free 1-800 numbers, so potential victims can call them without their parents’ knowledge. Others will tell children to call collect – and then, with Caller ID or Call Display, they can easily determine the phone number
- A child or teen receives mail, gifts or packages from someone you don’t know: It is common for offenders to send letters, photographs and gifts to potential victims. Computer sex offenders even send airline tickets to entice a child or teen to meet them
- A child or teen withdraws from family and friends, or quickly turns the computer monitor off or changes the screen if an adult enters the room
- Online predators work hard to drive wedges between kids and their families, often exaggerating minor problems at home
- A child is using someone else’s online account: Even kids who don’t have access to the Internet at home may meet an offender while online at a friend’s house or the library. Predators sometimes provide victims with a computer account so they can continue to communicate with them
What can be done if my child is being targeted?
- If your child receives sexually explicit images from an online correspondent, or if she or he is solicited sexually, contact the local police. You can also report incidents to the Cybertip Hotline at http://www.cybertip.ca
- Check your computer for pornographic files or any type of sexual communication as these are often warning signs
- Monitor your child’s access to all live electronic communications, such as chat rooms, instant messages and e-mail. Online predators usually meet potential victims in chat rooms at first, and then continue communicating with them through e-mail
Does Canadian law protect children from online predators?
Some forms of online harassment are criminal acts under Canadian law. Under the Criminal Code, it is a crime to communicate repeatedly with someone if your communication causes them to fear for their safety or the safety of others. In 2002, Canada enacted legislation targeting criminals who use the Internet.