Last Saturday night I went to hear a friend of mine speak on internet safety. He works for the Inspector General’s Office as a special agent for NASA. One of his most demanding duties is to catch internet predators who may be employed at NASA; people who are in chat rooms, on instant messaging systems, on MySpace and even on Facebook for the purpose of finding, seducing, molesting and/or even killing young people. Forty percent of all of NASA’s criminal cases are crimes against children. My friend is covered up with cases at all times.
After watching a couple of videos about real teen girls who were molested and murdered by people they thought were their online friends, I quickly became convinced that this special agents’ pleas for precautions were not just knee- jerk reactions to a few isolated incidents. There are thousands of guys out there who are just looking for the kind of young girls and/or guys who might be “good” targets. They are perversive. They are willing to wait for you to slowly divulge enough information about yourself that they can find you. They love to find kids who will divulge that they are having problems with their parents, grieving over someone who is sick or has died, or someone who is failing a class at school. When they find out what your struggles are, they immediately become empathetic; they are going through similar struggles and they slowly become a great shoulder to cry on. Over time, they develop a trust… they create a sort of secret place you can go online and share all of your problems. They gain your confidence enough that you slowly divulge enough information that they can find you.
At the end of the presentation, my friend gave some “Internet Nevers”. He has a thirteen year old daughter. (Thirteen year old girls are the number one targets of internet predators.) This is not just a list of restrictions that he passes out at seminars. These are things about which he is passionate as a Christian father.
He sees the under-belly of the internet world every day. Here’s the list. Remember, if you are a minor, you are especially at risk!
1. Never talk in chat rooms or on instant messenger or via facebook with people that you do not personally know face to face. (not someone you just have seen, or someone your friend knows, etc…)
2.Never arrange a face-to-face meeting with someone you met online.
3. Never upload pictures of yourself to people you do not personally know. (I know that tons of us have done this on fb, but he emaphasized that these pictures quickly are forwarded to others, then still others, and soon are sort of stuck on the internet for decades, when you just meant to share it with the friend who goes to church or school with you.)
4. Never give out identifying info about yourself including name, address, phone number, email address, school name, weather, school mascots, where you play sports, etc… Some of this seems a little crazy, but he gave actual cases where predators can put these clues together to track you.
5.Never download pictures or files from an unknown source.
6. Never respond to messages or postings that are obscene, belligerant, or offensive.
7. Never pick a screen name that reveals anything about you (no dates, towns, names). Examples below:
8. Never pick a screen name that suggests you may be willing to be a rebel. They are attracted to these names. Examples below:
10. Never fail to report anything sexual or out of the ordinary that might occur while you are online. Just because you are smart enough to say no to cybersex doesn’t mean the predator is dissuaded. Lots of girls/guys aren’t that smart, so do all you can to stop him. Tell parents, authorities at school, or report him to the internet network on which he was working. (One internet predator recently reported molesting forty girls before landing in jail.)
I left this seminar with a nauseous feeling in my stomach. Of course, internet use is an almost indispensable tool in our lives. Amazing technology yields amazing societal benefits. But amazing technology always presents huge opportunities for perversion and abuse. Two young people in congregations in my area have experienced devastation in their lives from which they will never fully recover because of internet predators. One in five girls and one in ten boys will be sexually victimized before adulthood. One in five teens has been sexually solicited online. This is scary, but real.
Just remember, if you think it’s too much information for a predator to know, it’s too much information to post. Thanks for reading.