These days, it's hard to find someone who has not at one point or another communicated with another person via the world wide web. The Internet has become so democratized, so much so that billions of the world's population now transmit volumes of information online at an unprecedented rate. Needless to say, the Internet has become an invaluable aspect of modern life. In fact, in a 2011 report by the United Nations, access to the Internet is now considered a basic human right.
While much can be said about the profound impact the Internet has had in the fields of communication, e-commerce, e-learning, and online banking, among others, its ascent in the lives of many has similarly given way to some of the most troubling web-related social problems today. One of these is the one posed by online sexual predators prowling for their next child victims.
Now more than ever, the liberties afforded by the Internet have become an ideal starting point for sexual predators who are out to catch their unwitting preys. With the proliferation of social media and the unbridled manner by which users of social networking sites, chat rooms, messaging boards, and forums share information about themselves, it's clear that the Internet is rife with opportunities for sexual predators to prosper and thrive.
Sense of anonymity
One of the things that make the World Wide Web an ideal place for sexual predators is the sense of anonymity it provides. On the web, child molesters and pornographers can easily pretend to be people they aren't as a way of getting close to their prospective victims. These people are usually adept at dealing with young children, with an acute sense of familiarity with pop culture references, hobbies, and other fields that young people are normally drawn into. They also portray a sympathetic character, one who is kind and willing to lend an ear, sometimes even being more than generous by sending gifts, all as an attempt at gaining the trust of their victims.
But while it is fairly easy to conclude that all children victimized by sexual predators are innocent, new research shows that some of these children willingly took part in their molestation as a product of curiosity, rebellion, or a desire to break free from their parents' restrictive clout. But this should not in any way be used as a way of limiting the responsibility of said sexual predators over their behavior. If anything, this should serve as a reminder that the first, and often the most crucial, step in protecting children from the dangers of the Internet should begin with adequate parental supervision at home.
Indeed, prevention is always better than cure. For while it is true that law enforcers have the capability and technical know-how to sift through layers of the Internet to uncover the real identities of sexual predators, it need not have to reach this extent. By taking a proactive stance in knowing their children's online activities, parents can play a significant role in ensuring their children get to have a pleasant and wholesome Internet experience.
Thankfully, there are a number of things that parents can do to steer their children away from the risks posed by the Internet, beginning with a few basic measures. One of these is by putting the computer in a public place inside the house. Have it installed, say, in the living room, where it is easy to monitor what the child is doing as opposed to setting it up in the child's bedroom. Children are also less likely to go to restricted websites if they are aware they are being watched.
Parents should also strictly impose rules on what should or should not be done when their children are online, including the amount of time spent in front of the computer. It is a good idea to emphasize to children at an early age the protocols for safe browsing. These include restrictions on giving out personally identifiable information, such as name, age, location, gender, or phone number to strangers or on public sites. Parents can also have their children use the family email when communicating with others. Here are other valuable rules worth considering:
- Refrain from sending photos to, or using the webcam to talk with, strangers.
- Set adequate privacy controls on their web accounts.
- Use a gender-neutral username.
- Refrain from responding to online trolls.
- Say no to requests for face to face meetings.
- Threats, bullying, and instances of sexual harassment should be reported.
Parents should strive to become tech-literate themselves in order to properly monitor what their children are really up to. With adequate knowledge of how things work, they put themselves at a far better position to identify if there's something wrong and what exactly needs to be done to resolve the situation. For example, using a firewall and other parental control systems can be a good starting point in combatting the problem. Being cognizant of the people their children are interacting with online is also a positive step forward.
Just as importantly, parents should know when to step in when they feel something is wrong. Among the behavior they should watch out for is when their children spend far too much time online, especially at night, or when there are pornographic files stored in the computer. Other red flags include anonymous phone calls or gifts from people you are not familiar with.
And finally, parents should know exactly what to do should they find out their children are being targeted by sexual predators. Let the children know what happened and the gravity of the situation. They should also be alert enough to keep evidence, including the usernames of the suspects and copies of all correspondences, including emails, chat history, and forum posts, among others. Reporting the case to local authorities or the FBI should be the logical conclusion in ensuring the sexual predators get caught.
No one is disputing the benefits brought about by the emergence of the Internet as an important component of modern life. But this should not impair one's awareness of the perils that come with it, too, including crimes perpetrated by online sexual predators. It is only through this awareness and knowledge of what others are capable of doing can parents step up to protect their loved ones, particularly their children.