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Internet Safety Guide

USE CAUTION ON THE INTERNETIntroduction: The Internet is a wonderful tool. Everyday it becomes more and more of a communications medium. Once a data base of information used primarily by "hi tech" computer "geeks," todays Internet is a vast communication network that allows people from all corners of the earth to talk and share information at lightning speed.

The Internet opens doors to the world like no other medium in history. The Internet will give your young person opportunities to experience other cultures, make friends and learn new things like never before.

The unfortunate fact is that, like the rest of the world, there are also real life dangers on the Internet. Children especially need instruction on how to protect themselves while online. The answer is education, not banishment from the Internet. It would be a shame to deny this wondrous tool to our children simply because of an element that can be thwarted with knowledge.

This guide was prepared by Special Agent Marcus Lawson. Special Agent Lawson has over 15 years experience as a federal investigator and has specialized in child sexual abuse and child exploitation crimes for over 10 years. He has spent hundreds of hours pursuing these types of investigations on-line and is intimately familiar with methods used by perpetrators to attract victims via the Internet. Special Agent Lawson is also the Founder and President of The Force Against child sexual abuse, a non-profit foundation dedicated to fighting child exploitation. In this guide, he shares information that is invaluable to keeping children safe.

This guide is provided as an informational tool to give you suggestions that will minimize the risk of your child being harmed by an on-line perpetrator. This guide cannot possibly cover every instance of Internet stalking and therefore cannot and should not take the place of positive interaction and open communication between children and parents or guardians.

Adults can learn from reading this as well. Remember too that on-line perpetrators take many forms, not always involving children. Everyone needs to remember to follow simple safety rules regarding on-line safety.

Be wise online...and have fun!

What are the Dangers?

Real Dangers Online: Most parents are aware that the Internet is a place where children may be exposed to inappropriate material. Although this can be the case, by far the greatest danger to children on the Internet is interactive communications between people. Make no mistake, there are people who use the Internet looking for opportunities to contact children. When they do, they can be extremely manipulating in getting the child or young person to bend to their will.

Yes, occasionally these people show their true colors immediately by making suggestive sexual remarks or come-ons. The majority however are far more clever than that and are willing to invest weeks, months ... even years to seduce a victim. Statistically, most children are molested by an adult who is known by the child and trusted. Child molesters know this, and are thus willing to invest the time necessary to become known and trusted. The adult offender will take advantage of a child's natural need for affection and attention and offer to fill that void. Interviews of convicted child molesters agree that victims who are in need of attention because of a lack thereof in the home are the easiest to seduce. The affection will often begin innocently enough with the molester merely willing to invest time and conversation. This may be accompanied by innocent on-line play such as describing private sexual thoughts and over time evolve to meeting for sexual molestation. The abuse will be so gradual as to hardly seem like an escalation and by the time the child victim realizes what has happened, the escalation has gone beyond their power to stop. Potential child abusers use a multitude of methods to seduce victims and/or arrange opportunities to meet them in person. The anonymity of the Internet allows a child predator to be any age, sex or occupation. It is very common for instance for a middle aged male offender to pretend to be an attractive teenage boy in an effort to seduce a lonely teen girl. Predators will invest the time necessary to seduce a victim with friendship and/or offers of gifts to the point where they can be met face to face. It is not uncommon that at that point, the seducer has gained the trust and love of the victim enough that their true age is no longer of consequence to the victim.

They may also pretend to be a chat room coordinator or a high placed computer systems operator giving the potential victim a level of "responsibility" and "importance" that they will be reluctant to surrender, even when asked to do things that do not "feel right." In short, the abductor will be whomever or whatever the child needs or wants to gain the child's affection and trust.

USE CAUTION ON THE INTERNETReal Answers at Home: The most practical and realistic way to protect your children from any kind of assault, be it on-line or personal, is education and open communication. Share with your children the reality of the nature of some people in our society that would hurt them, learn everything you can about online safety, and then allow an open forum of communication where they feel free to discuss with you anything that makes them feel bad or uncomfortable. If you feel you do not have open communication with your child or teen, seek some sort of counseling or other relationship building exercise.

Guide To On-Line Safety:

1. Do not give out personal information such as first and last name, address, telephone number, parent's names, work address or telephone number, or the name and location of their school, church, clubs etc. Teach your child or teen to always be thinking about what identifiers could be used to find them.

2. Do not allow children or teens to send an on-line friend a self picture or other visual identifiers such as pictures of their house, school etc.

3. Children and teens should be made aware of the "private areas" of their bodies (the area of the body covered by the bathing suit) and that not only does NO ONE has the right to touch them in that area, NO ONE has the right to talk to them about that area on-line. Even someone that seems like a great friend on-line may attempt this inappropriate behavior. Teaching your child this fact goes a long way toward giving them the power to resist.

4. Encourage children and teens not to respond to any messages that are mean or in anyway make them feel uncomfortable. Your child or teen holds no responsibility to continue talking to someone online. If they are being treated inappropriately they should disconnect the chat immediately.

5. Develop and discuss with children and teens household rules for going online. Decide upon the time of day that they can be online, the length of time they can be online, and appropriate areas for them to visit. Consider purchasing Internet filtering software that can greatly reduce the chance of their exposure to inappropriate material. Internet filtering software should not, however, give parents a feeling of ultimate security. Although these programs do filter many inappropriate sites, they do not filter against inappropriate chatting online.

6. Do not trust that people on the Internet are really who they represent themselves to be. Remember that many on-line predators pretend to be people that they are not and will often take the persona of someone who would be of interest to a child. The on-line predator will carefully construct their role to attract victims into on-line sexual encounters and/or real life meetings. Children should be warned that often, the person who they think they "know" on the Internet, they may not know at all. Warn them that there are "red flags" to remember about on-line friends. If the person just happens to like everything they do, is always supportive and always available, they should be concerned that the person is not being truthful. One way to test this is to offer inaccurate information themselves and tell the person that they like something that they actually do not like at all. Look at the on-line friends response. Do they continue to agree and claim they like the thing too?

7. Parents should know who their children's online friends are. Warn children and teens that if a "friend" is telling them to keep secrets from parents they are most likely dangerous.

8. Always maintain open, honest, constant communication with children and teens about their experiences on the Internet. Talking to your child or teen about their daily experiences on the Internet will open the door and encourage them to tell you if they encounter any material and/or persons which make them feel uncomfortable. Child predators are experts at exploiting the natural tensions between parents and children and will seek out children and teens who are having difficulties at home.

9. Do not allow children or teens to personally meet with anyone they befriend online without first checking with their parents. Although face to face meetings are not recommended, if a meeting is believed to be legitimate and safe, (perhaps after the parent has chatted on-line with the parent of the friend) take the added precaution of meeting the on-line friend in a public place accompanied by two parents or other responsible adults. Do not give this person a home telephone number until AFTER your child has met them and the on-line friend is legitimate. Providing a telephone number over the Internet is akin to providing your home address.

10. Trust your instincts. If someone is "too good to be true," they probably are just that.

11. Research your options, call your provider, find out more about your system and how you can make it work for you. For example, many Internet chat programs have a log function which will record in the computers hard drive all communications between your computer and others. This log can be reviewed by parents when deciding if an on-line friend is safe. Are things being discussed that are inappropriate for your child or teen and friends?

| Protect Your Kids & Your Privacy on the Internet |

Reprinted with permission from The Force AGAINST Child Abuse.

| Child Safety Main | Responding to Child Abuse |

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