Computers provide helpful information for millions of people each day. They are also serving as the bait for perpetrators to hook innocent children to reel them into sick worlds.
St. Mary's Schools brought in Robert Hugh Farley this week to speak to staff and parents of the community. Farley is a retired police detective with 30 years experience, now serving as a consultant in crimes against children in Chicago.
His presentation, "Protecting Children and Young People From Online Dangers" provided parents in attendance with some timely advice.
"Internet safety is a topic all schools are looking at," commented Rose Davis, principal at St. Mary's. "Parents are struggling with what to do and what to let their kids get into on the computer."
The school had recently alerted families that some students had been contacted in a possible abusive situation by an individual using MSN internet service.
"Many people think abuse is where the the poor people live, but we have a brand new child molester," Farley said. "He or she is highly intelligent, wealthy, has no criminal background and has access to a computer. Anyone can be an offender."
The online molester usually assumes a false child or teen identity. After chatting, they begin to ask a child for personal information and perhaps photos. After some correspondence, the offender requests telephone contact and may attempt to set up a meeting.
The lies may sound see-through to a parent, but young people are trusting and often believe everything they read. "They don't perceive lies," Farley said.
The typical online child victim is naturally curious and trusting and does not see anything wrong in the contact. Often, there is a desire for attention and affection.
Most parents warn their kids about strangers and to stay away from them.
Yet young adults feel safe while in their own home talking to someone on their own computer.
"The only way to protect them from the computer is to disconnect the modem and disconnect online services," Farley said. The statistics are alarming, he said, pointing out that one of five kids ages 10-17 will be solicited over the internet.
"You can have parental rules at home and there could be rules at school (to stay away from particular sites) but that can be blown out the window when they go to a friend's home or to a public building," Farley said. The curiosity is there.
He tells parents, "The nosier you are, the safer your kids will be." If your son or daughter minimizes the screen when you walk in the room, check it out; they most likely will be trying to hide something.
The most dangerous time of the day for kids to be on the computer, he said, is after school until 5 p.m. Those educated offenders are often online at work and must end the correspondence at the end of the work day to go home to a family.
The new webcam has its advantage - until it gets into the hands of a molester. The device allows the offender and his or her victims to see each other on "real time."
"Kids can invite people into their house through the webcam," he said. And although, again, the kids feel safe being in their own home, this can be a very dangerous situation for them.
Farley has made hundreds of arrests over his 30 years and he is never ceases to be appalled by the molesters and the way their minds operate. A majority of the arrests have been made by him or by others in the department after receiving tips and going into the particular site, posing as a teen. Conversation leading to a meeting and arrest.
It cannot be stressed enough. "Talk with your kids and let them know you know more than you did this morning about the computer," commented a gentleman from the Sioux City Diocese also in attendance. "We have to stay informed and if we don't our kids will be exposed to a lot of stuff they shouldn't be."
Principal Davis concluded, "If we ask any of our students if they are in danger they will say, 'no.' That naiveness is what gets us in trouble. "
If you suspect your child or anyone you know is being sought over the internet, get in touch with Cyber Tipline by calling 1-800-843-5678 or going to the website www.missingkids.com/cybertip