Danger Lurking Online
The world-wide-web is everywhere and many people have grown used to the convenience of staying connected to the world. You can get the web on your blackberry, i-phone, home computer, laptop, and even better yet, you can hook up to free access at billions of hotspots worldwide. A person can even gain free internet access at your local McDonalds or Starbucks! Although the availability and convenience of the internet can be helpful for people needing information, driving directions, checking accounts, or keeping in contact with business customers, the internet can be a hiding place for a lurking monster just waiting to prey on your innocent children.
That is right, I said it, a lurking monster just waiting to prey on your innocent children and I meant it. Did you know that thirty million children, which equates to roughly 45% of the youth under age 18, use the internet daily? And of those thirty million children, one in five of them will receive in some form an unwanted sexual solicitation while online (Crimes Against Children Research Center, n.d.)This unwanted solicitation can start as something that seems innocent like a conversation about the local skate park or a local band that the kid mentions in his profile that he likes. But the conversation can turn into something much more sinister. The conversation can turn to sexual talk, requests to engage in sexual activities, giving out personal sex information, or even meeting in person to do these acts!
What Makes Someone Vulnerable?
One source said there are several characteristics that can make a child more vulnerable to this kind of attack. Let it be mentioned however that young children, youth and adolescents, all have a strong sense to be wanted, felt cared about it, and to be accepted. The online predators know this and they will prey on it. These predators will pick vulnerable children and use them to their advantage. One study suggested that predators will seek out children that are physically attractive that have low self esteem (Elliott et al., 1995). Another source stated children that come from dysfunctional and impoverished families can also be more susceptible to these attacks from online predators (Kenny & McEachern, 2000). With children in this age bracket it is easy to become their friends and start to take advantage of them. The sexual predators look for vulnerable children and then the process of what is termed, “grooming” begins.
“Grooming” is a term loosely mentioned in many articles about sexual predators in regards to their process of picking a victim and how they go about getting what they want from the child. This process starts with the predator surfing online and finding a victim. Once the predator finds a victim, the process usually begins with emails or instant messages. This will then grow into exchanging pictures or gifts with the youth. If this part of the grooming process goes well, and the youth seems to be receptive, the sexual predator might start to initiate more contact with the youth. In order to do this, the offender might show the youth pornographic material in an effort to desensitize the youth to sexual contact. From this point on if the previous step goes well, the predator can move in and seek sexual activities with the youth (U.S. Department of Justice, 2001).
Sexual Predator Typology
You might be asking yourself how any adult could do this to a child. The truth is the people who make up the sexual predator typology usually have serious other problems. One source said their research indicated that “adult sexual perpetrators (e.g., pedophiles) who target children under age 12 experience a high occurrence of psychiatric, substance abuse, and personality disorders,” (Murray, 2000). Murray also stated that nearly 75% of these sexual predators experience anxiety or depression and half of them experience lifetime substance abuse issues (Murray, 2000). Even scarier is the fact that 60% of these pedophiles have an existing personality disorder OCD (25%), antisocial (22.5%), narcissistic (20%), and avoidant (20%) (Murray, 2000).
When it comes to the age of these sexual predators it is hard to determine exactly which age bracket tends to participate in these sorts of online predator activities. Research suggests that there are sexual predators that range in age from age 18-72, with the majority occurring between 30-42 years of age (Elliot, Browne & Kilcoyne, 1995). There are also many youths out there who commit acts of sexual deviancy with other youth online. As many as 30-60% of child molestation cases in the United States are committed by children under age 18 (Miranda & Corcoran, 2000).
Some other characteristics of an online predator include: being less socially adept; having more sexually deviant fantasies; and having sex with non human objects (Fagan, Wise, Schmidt, & Berlin, 2002). Also, statistics show that sexual predators of all ages are predominately male; 85%-90% of cases (Fagen, et al., 2002). Even more disturbing, Fieldman and Crespi found that “despite mainstream perceptions, the typical sexual perpetrator is often someone well known to the child” such as a friend, uncle, relative or neighbor (Fieldman & Crespi, 2002).
Tips For Parents
So now that we know what characteristics can make a youth more vulnerable to an online predator and we’ve looked at the classic characteristics of an online predator, let’s take a deeper look at what can you do as a parent to help prevent a online sexual predator from attacking your own children. First off, it is crucial that you talk to your children, age appropriately of course, about online dangers. It is important to inform your children that sending out personal information over the internet can be very dangerous. Any personal information, such as your name, address, phone number, etc., shall not be discussed with anyone online. You should also mention how predators can use this information online to their advantage (U.S. Department of Justice, 2001). Although while the child is home you can do a lot to minimize the chance of the child being solicited, the children spend a lot of time outside the home online as well. So it is important they are made aware of the dangers out there prior to venturing out on their own.
Another thing parents can do to help minimize the chances of a sexual predator attack is to monitor your child’s online friends (U.S. Department of Justice, 2001). If you can sit with your child in an age appropriate manner and monitor their online friends, you can lessen the possibility of one of the online friends being a predator. As a parent, you can check message logs if you need to, to see what types of interactions have been happening between the child and his or her friend. Watch for the online friend to solicit meetings in person. Talk with your child about the dangers of meeting people online in person.
The United States Department of Justice also encourages parents to oversee what kinds of online screen names their child is using (2001). It is proven that many internet predators will scroll through the available list of online people and prey upon those who have sexually provocative names. The Department of Justice also encourages parents to make a parent-child contract for internet usage, to help eliminate the characteristics that can make a child vulnerable to an online attack. I will attach one at the end of this document for your viewing.
There are two other useful tips for parents to consider. The first is that parents should place the computer in a public location, such as the living room or den. If a computer is placed in the child’s room, there is a higher chance that the child could be participating in negative online activities. If the child knows the parent can see what they are doing it helps prevent the child from engaging in potentially negative behaviors. The second tip is: there is a group called the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). This group mans a twenty four hour call line and internet website to use if you suspect your child is being harassed by an online predator. NCMEC’s toll free number is 800)-843-5678 and there website can be found at: http://www.cybertipline.com. Anytime any sort of suspicious activity is suspected, if a parent contacts the NCMEC they will investigate the IP address from which the solicitations came from and the group can help prevent and even catch online predators (NCMEC, 2010).
Crime Against Children Research Center. Various articles retrieved June 24, 2010 from:
Dombrowski, S., LeMasney, J., Ahia, C., & Dickson, S. (2004). Protecting Children From
Online Sexual Predators: Technological, Psychoeducational, and Legal Considerations. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice,
Elliott, M., Browne, K., & Kilcoyne, J. (1995). Child sexual abuse prevention: What offenders
tell us. Child Abuse and Neglect.
Fagan, P. J., Wise, T. N., Schmidt, C. W., & Berlin, F. S. (2002). Pedophilia. Journal of the
American Medical Association, 288, 2458–2465.
Fieldman, J. P., & Crespi, T. D. (2002). Child sexual abuse: Offenders, disclosure, and school-
based initiatives. Adolescence, 37, 151–161.
Kenny, M. C., & McEachern, A. G. (2000). Racial, ethnic, and cultural factors of childhood
sexual abuse: A selected review of the literature. Clinical Psychology Review.
Miranda, A. O., & Corcoran, C. L. (2000). Comparison of perpetration characteristics between
male juvenile and adult sexual offenders: Preliminary results. Sexual Abuse: Journal of
Research and Treatment, 12, 179–188.
Murray, J. B. (2000). Psychological profiles of pedophiles and child molesters. Journal of
Psychology, 134, 211–224.
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Retrieved June 26, 2010 from:
U.S. Department of Justice. (2001). Internet crimes against children. Office for Victims of
Crime Bulletin. Washington, DC: Author.