Law enforcement expert discusses how to avoid cyber predators
April 23, 2009
STUTTGART, Germany -- Bob Farley is known as the molester arrestor.
There's a reason for the moniker. Farley, the commander of the Cook County Sheriff's Child Exploitation Unit in Chicago, Ill., from 1997 to 2004, had a 100 percent conviction rate. "We did not lose a case," he said.
The 30-year law enforcement veteran spent all but two years of his career investigating crimes against children.
Retired, he now works as an international consultant for INTERPOL, the International Criminal Police Organization, and trains professionals in child abuse investigative techniques and technology-facilitated crimes against children.
Farley was in the Stuttgart Military Community recently offering cyber predator training seminars for professionals, families and teens as part of the U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart Family Advocacy Program-sponsored Family University.
Participants were given a graphic glimpse into the disturbing world of pedophilia, child erotica, child pornography and the evolution of online crimes.
The former detective discussed many of his cases, illustrating his presentation with evidence such as videos and digital photos that were seized during undercover investigations.
Cyberspace gives children a false sense of security, said Farley.
"The computers are in their homes. Mom and dad are there. The front door is closed and locked," he said. The kids are "set up" because while they are warned about strangers, in cyberspace there are no strangers, only friends they have yet to meet.
Even cell phones are a danger.
"The molesters have changed - they've already moved from computers to cell phones," said Farley. They have done so because children are posting their cell phone numbers on social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook. Molesters can now send text and instant messages to their victims.
Not to mention sending pornography. Pedophiles "use pornography to lower the inhibitions of the kids and make it seem all right," said Farley.
So the question is how can a parent protect their children, other than by disconnecting the modem' First of all, parents need to be familiar with technology and its problems.
According to Farley, webcams can be a big problem. Webcam broadcasts can be recorded and posted to pedophile Web sites. A program called "Snagit" allows a computer user to capture anything on his or her monitor and share it with others. By way of illustration, he showed images taken from a broadcast of a group of teenage girls in a bedroom. While a girl was speaking into the webcam, several girls behind her came out of a bathroom. They were nude and unaware that the webcam was on.
Cell phones and digital cameras can also lead to problems. Farley showed a slide with several photos of children and teens partially dressed or in suggestive poses, taken from a pedophile Web site.
"I guarantee you that most all of these pictures are from Facebook, MySpace or Zenga. What the kids don't realize is, when you post the stuff there, absolutely nothing is private," said Farley.
He said social networking site profiles, even if marked to be visible only by friends, can be accessed by anyone going through a search engine, such as Google. "Even if it is marked private, they can still get into that first page."
This was news to many of the parents in attendance.
"I was under the false impression that if it was marked private, it was private," said Renate Cooke, whose 13-year-old daughter is on MySpace.
At an afternoon seminar for teens, Madison Frink, 16, thought she was protected because her MySpace and Facebook profiles are set to private. The news that they can be accessed "was kind of disturbing," she said.
Frink admitted she has received text and instant messages from people she does not know. She did the smart thing and showed her parents.
In fact, it's just what Farley suggested.
"If you ever have a problem, talk to your mom and dad about it," he told the teens. "Predators try to twist it up so that you will think you'll be in trouble. You won't."
Farley, father of three, advises parents to be proactive.
"Ask your kids to show you what Facebook is, to show you their friends' profiles. Ask them if having their phone number posted on their page is a good thing," he said, adding, "the only way to address problems is by being open."