The Evolution of Predators
In the past, predators aspiring to victimize their prey would have to meet, interact with, and secure the trust of their victims in the physical world. A typical depiction of this scenario is an older-aged man walking a puppy near a busy public playground. Children present are enticed by the puppy and flock to the man to play with the dog. The man establishes a sense of trust with the children through the puppy, and after a few visits to the playground and subsequent interaction with the children, the predator emerges when the man invites a child to his house to play with additional (often fictitious) animals. The child, almost blinded by the opportunity to play with more cute puppies, agrees and unwittingly becomes a victim.
Today, the Internet has created a whole new playground in which predators lurk and lure children. Personal pages on social-networking sites, Internet chat rooms, and instant messaging (IM) applications are widely popular among the young American online population. The cloak of secrecy and anonymity that these forums provide creates an ideal situation for online predators to meet and interact with their potential victims. These predators are essentially invited into their victims’ houses or bedrooms, and often the victims do not realize they are in danger until it is too late.
An FBI report* says:
“By using chat rooms, children can chat for hours with unknown individuals, often without the knowledge or approval of their parents. Investigation reveal(s) that computer sex offenders (have) used chat rooms to contact children. Chat rooms offer the advantage of immediate communication around the world and provide the pedophile with an anonymous means of identifying and recruiting children into sexually illicit relationships.” *Operation Candyman Investigation, March 2002
Thirty-five percent of 5-12 graders report (NAC 2006-07) that if their parents knew everything about where they went and what they did on the Internet, their parents would “disapprove” or consider “punishing” them.
What Children are Doing on the Internet
|Share Photos of Myself||12%||34%|
|Share (Upload) Music||19%||35%|
|Copy (Download) Music||32%||55%|
|Share (Upload) Music/Videos||13%||17%|
|Copy (Download) Movies/Videos||16%||26%|
Social-Networking Site Usage Among American Students (Grades 3-12)
% of Students Using Social Networking
% Change (From Previous Grade)
Population (Users/Total Number of Responses)
The percentage of students who use social-networking Web sites increases steadily from grade 4 through 12. Social networking increases with age because as children grow up they become increasingly social and desire to communicate more with their peers for dating, sports, shared interests, and other extra-curricular activities. Social networking combines the benefits traditionally provided by chat rooms (i.e., instantaneous communication) with other activities like personal profiles, photo sharing, music/video sharing, online party invitations, etc. This is in tune with i-SAFE data from previous years suggesting that chat room usage goes down as age goes up. This is because social networking replaces chat room usage in teenagers, since it provides opportunities that go beyond just chatting.
Predators can meet a child or teenager through their personal pages or by logging on to a teen chat room, while pretending to be someone who is the same age and interested in the same music, movies, or sports. The predators then establish a sense of trust with the victim. The communication moves from the chat room to IM, then to e-mail and eventually the telephone. While the child believes a new friend has been made, the predator’s ultimate goal is to set up a face-to-face meeting with their soon-to-be victim. This process, the one by which online predators generally operate, is known as grooming.
The Evolution of Predators (You are Here)
Reprinted with the permission of i-SAFE Inc. © 1998=2008 i-Safe Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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