One in four US teen girls reported that they met strangers off the Internet. One in seven boys admitted they did as well. While most of these “Internet friends” turn out to be another teen or preteen, that’s not always the case. Unfortunately, children are now dying at the hands of their Internet child molesters and, not all sexual exploitation of children occurs offline.
About online predators
These child molesters are blackmailing the children into performing sexual acts in the comfort of their own homes, on webcams. Yet, 100% of the children molested by Internet sexual predators went willingly to a meeting. They may have thought they were meeting a cute fourteen year old boy or girl, but they knew they didn’t know the person in real life.
Mom and Dad may know their teens are in their rooms at midnight, but the growing prevalence of online predators means the kids still might not be safe there.
"The Internet has given predators access to children they previously would not have had," said U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan of the Western District of Pennsylvania. "Children are often too trusting of adults."
Online stalking of children is on the rise, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Alexandria, Va. The center's Cyber Tip Line last year received 2,605 complaints about online sexual predators, a 23 percent jump from the previous year.
"There have got to be hundreds of thousands of people preying on children in this country," said Michael McTavish, director of the Pennsylvania State Police's Computer Crime Task Force. No agency tracks the number of arrests or convictions of online predators, but local and national authorities agree the problem is escalating.
Thirty-nine percent of children say they trust the people they meet on the Web -- yet one in five children has received an online solicitation for sex, according to iSafe America Inc., a nonprofit Internet safety foundation based in Carlsbad, Calif.
"Many parents are just clueless"
Internet safety for children improves dramatically with one simple step. That is rule No. 1: Computers should never be in bedrooms. If a computer is in a common area, most parents will pick up on it when something strange is going on.
Online predators rely on stealth, authorities say, prowling cyberspace in anonymity, surfing chatrooms, discussion boards and teen peer forums. Once they've established contact either through chats, instant messaging or e-mail, predators work at different rates, some gradually introducing sex into the conversation, others moving in quickly.
We see some predators who pretend to be children -- others are quite upfront about the fact that they are adults. Like many people, a lot of them think the Internet is so vast that they wonder what the chance of getting caught is. But just as predators lurk unseen in cyberspace, so, too, do police.
Cyber stalkers almost always are men, but establishing a profile beyond that is difficult, authorities say. They work in a wide range of occupations, may be articulate and well-educated, poor or rich, according to Parry Aftab, an online safety expert and executive director of WiredSafety.org.