This has been an eye-opening week for us – Brooke and I attended the Governor’s Summit on Bullying on Tuesday, and I’m still reeling from today’s Chrysalis Roundtable presentation, THREATS TO YOUTH ONLINE, presented by Mike Ferjak, Senior Criminal Investigator with the Iowa Department of Justice. I had heard Mike give a presentation at a mother-daughter event several years ago, and was astounded about how frequently – and how easily – a young person can fall into the throes of a predator online.
Here are just a few statistics:
One in five U.S. teenagers who regularly log on to the internet says they have received an unwanted sexual solicitation via the Web. Solicitations were defined as requests to engage in sexual activities or sexual talk, or to give personal sexual information. Crimes Against Children Research Center
25% of children have been exposed to unwanted pornographic material online. Crimes Against Children Research Center
Only 1/3 of households with internet access are actively protecting their children with filtering or blocking software. Center for Missing and Exploited Children
75% of children are willing to share personal information online about themselves and their family in exchange for goods and services. eMarketer
Only approximately 25% of children who encountered a sexual approach or solicitation told a parent or adult. Crimes Against Children Research Center
One in 33 youth received an aggressive sexual solicitation in the past year. This means a predator asked a young person to meet somewhere, called a young person on the phone, and/or sent the young person correspondence, money, or gifts through the U.S. Postal Service. Youth internet Safety Survey
77% of the targets for online predators were age 14 or older. Another 22% were users ages 10 to 13. Crimes Against Children Research Center
In his position, Ferjak works for the Iowa Attorney General and has a permanent assignment to the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation’s (DCI) Cyber-Crime Unit where he serves on the Federal Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force. Mike is also assigned to the Attorney General’s Human Trafficking enforcement and prosecution initiative. He has served as the lead investigator for the Sexually Violent Predator Unit in the Attorney General’s Office, and with his knowledge and experience, is called upon by law enforcement, judicial, professional, community, and school groups across the country to provide up-to-the-minute facts on why this is such a significant problem.
Some predators use the anonymity of the internet to prey on vulnerable children and teens, whose internet access is often unsupervised. Activities include exchanging child pornography or seeking victims online. The internet allows them to share images and information about children and to make and stay in contact with them. Predators are present on children's chat rooms, frequently pretending to be children themselves. Some actively arrange meetings with children, going to extraordinary efforts and incurring large travel and other expenses…the stories are endless and shocking.
How are the youth victimized? By innocently becoming entangled in an online relationship with someone who represents him or herself as a young, attractive, interesting and thoughtful person. Adults establish "friendships" with children online, then attempt to arrange a face-to-face meeting, potentially to sexually abuse or exploit the child. They may then make online arrangements for the exchange, sale or purchase of child pornography (the actual exchange or delivery occurs through the mail, hand-to-hand exchanges, e-mail, and other electronic means) , or arrangements between adults seeking sexual access to children and adults willing to provide and/or trade children for sexual purposes.
Ferjack reports there are an estimated 130,000 sex offenders using MYSPACE (precursor to Facebook), and that the average age group sought for sex trafficking purposes is 11-14 year olds. And 14% of child pornography online involves infants – birth to 12 months old.
If you are a parent, friend, teacher, or interested adult, here are some internet safety tips to deliver to the children in your life:
Avoid unfamiliar "Chat Rooms". Chat rooms are places where many people can gather and discuss various topics of mutual interest all at one time.
Don't talk to people online that you don't know. Offenders can easily fool others.
Never use your real name, age, or indication of your gender in your screen name or email address. The most prevalent internet crime today is cyber stalking.
Never post personal information in a user profile. Public resources available online can lead an offender to learn much more about you through internet searching.
Use an up-to-date firewall. A firewall will block hackers’ “pre-attack probes,” called port scans. A firewall should also block traffic or communications from a virus that made it onto your computer through your personal information.
Use an up-to-date virus scanner. Most virus scanners will automatically add virus definitions. Update definitions once a week to have the most current definitions to detect the latest viruses.
Use Windows Update. Windows Update provides patches for known vulnerabilities in Windows and other Microsoft products. Windows Update can be automated to check and install patches automatically.
Avoid opening email from someone you don't know, even email from known persons with unexpected or unusual attachments.
Report any incidents to the internet Crime Complaint Center (www.ic3.gov).
If you are aware of a child you suspect or believe is in immediate risk of being harmed or exploited, contact your local law enforcement agency and report the situation to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at www.cybertipline.com.
If you have information concerning a missing child, report it to your local law enforcement agency and contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678).
We so appreciate Chrysalis Board member, Lieutenant Joe Gonzalez, for his leadership in connecting this vital information to us and to our friends. And because there is so much more to online abuse and bullying, we will schedule another presentation by Mike Ferjak to share more information on bullying and social networking. After the first of the year, we’ll notify you of the time and place.
Please take time to forward this information to friends – there is no reason not to.