Internet Safety for the Innocent Examined
January 30, 2009
<b> FORT STEWART, GA </b> -- Click-and there it is; little Johnnie Doe* is connected to his newest 12-year-old friend who said he lives in Ohio. The new friend, Mr. Predator* wants to send Johnnie a toy version of "their" favorite cartoon character. To do this, Mr. Predator needs Johnnie's address. Unbeknownst to Johnnie, the 36-year-old Mr. Predator lives two neighborhoods away and is awaiting the opportunity to meet Johnnie-in person.
This scenario is played out in homes across the country to the detriment of many innocent and statistically lonely children in search of camaraderie. One click of a mouse can open up a Web site, which may hold a wealth of information and/or entertainment. But placed in the wrong hands or the hands of an unsuspecting child, it is dangerous.
There are various groups that protect children from becoming statistics of Internet misuse. One local Savannah group, Infragard-Coastal Empire Chapter, is made up of business leaders, education and technology professionals, as well as local law enforcement personnel. Infragard has information that can help parents make better decisions about their home computer's usage, placement, hardware and software. Directorate Emergency Services Information Management officer Wayne Lee is a member of the organization and helps shed light on this ever-growing problem.
Lee said a way to cut down the risk of a child being contacted by someone who may want to harm him is to spend time with the child.
"Get involved with your child," Lee said. "Don't allow children to have private chat sessions in their bedroom or hide somewhere in the corner with a computer. Computers tend to have residue left behind on all the places that we communicate, especially on the Internet."
According to A Parent's Guide to Internet Safety, a U.S. Department of Justice Federal Bureau of Investigation publication, parents are encouraged to remember that a computer-sex offender can be any age or sex. The person does not have to fit the caricature of a dirty, unkempt, older man wearing a raincoat to be someone who could harm a child.
Children are not the only targets subject to trickery through the Internet. Soldiers fall victim to Internet fraudulent activities and scams. Retirees, Soldiers and Army Civilians should be aware of suspicious Web sites and offers that seem too good to be true. Some Web sites may appear to be reputable, but Soldiers should be suspicious of any unsolicited website or phone call requesting social security numbers, birthdates or any other pertinent personal information.
A few signs that a child may be at risk on-line inclue: a child spends large amounts of time on-line, especially at night; a child has pornography on his or her computer; a child receives phone calls from unknown men or is making calls, sometimes long distance, to unrecognizable numbers. As a seduction process, offenders may send, gifts, letters, or go as far to send plane tickets for the child to travel across country to meet them.
Lee's other suggestions include having the home computer placed at a central location and choose your child's online name carefully to ensure name, age or gender is not revealed.
If the child's identity is breeched, parents are encouraged to deal with the event in a constructive manner. Explore why the response was inappropriate and how to avoid the situation in the future.
At times, youths may come across nefarious pictures or information while surfing for a school project after typing a legitimate word and being redirected to a pornographic Web site.
A recent study produced by the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, in conjunction with the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center, found that in 2006 more than one-third of youth Internet users saw sexual material online they did not want to see within the past year, compared to 25 percent in 1999. According to The Kaiser Family Foundation report, 70 percent of teenagers, ages 15-17, have accidently come across pornography on the Web at some time.
According to Lee, those images are not just pornographic but crime scene images. "Things that are not palatable in any way," said Lee. "Lots of innocent people accidently stumble on unsavory sites because they typed in something wrong, or because they put in a word that had no evil connotation to them."
There are laws in place to protect children said Lee. The challenge that law enforcement officials face is the implementation of those laws. The U.S. Georgia code 16-12-100.2 addresses all the points of pornography and child exploitation. There are other codes that address telephone communication with minors. Title 18 of the U.S. code sections 1-9, address protection of children from sexual predators and was put into public law. Code 105-314 covers topics, which protect children from predators and pornography. Some of these laws and codes apply on and off the Internet.
Third-party software packages are also available. They allow children to access only parent-approved Web sites, such as askjeevesforkids, yahooligians, and kidsclick.
A study by the National Child Protection Clearing House found teenagers were accessing the Internet at more places than home, such as libraries, school or a friend's house. Forty-five percent placed a personal profile on the Internet and only 17 percent of their parent's believed the results. Eighty-one percent of teens had a private e-mail account and over half of the teens had corresponded with strangers.
Lee stated that he went to the Georgia department of human resources Web site at and found information to inform parents and teachers of what they need to know about Internet safety. There are many other websites available to help parents get net savvy such as kidshealth.org, getnetwise.org, www.dhr.ga.gov and Infragard.net.
If your child has been contacted by a suspicious person via the Internet, parents should contact the Fort Stewart or Hunter Army Airfield Police at 767-4895 or 315-6133.
*Names have been changed to protect the innocent and not so innocent.