Who Are Predators Targeting?
Research is clear that girls are at a greater risk than boys. However boys that are gay or questioning their sexuality are at greater risk of falling victim than boys who are not.
From an age perspective, research focuses mostly on 10-17 year old children. Research conducted by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children suggests that predators in the U.S. tend to target 14-17 kids. Though other statistics suggest that 13-14 year old children are most at risk.
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A Hidden Problem?
These statistics don’t mean that boys and younger children are out of the woods. In fact, 19% of victims are younger than 13 years old.
Also these statistics don’t account for unreported cases. In fact, only 1 in 3 children will report sexual crimes to a trusted adult and only 10% of all crimes are reported to police.
But there is an even scarier thought. What about the cases where the child doesn’t know he or she is a victim?
Peter Davies, CEO of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Center says,
“Victims are getting younger and younger and the level of abuse portrayed appears to be getting worse and worse.”
Online Predator Profile
Why teenage girls are at a greater risk is perplexing. Is it because they are online more? It is because most major social media sites are restricted to those ages 13 and up? The questions are numerous but the answers aren’t clear. I think some of this has to due with the nature of online predators vs pedophiles.
According to a study cited by APA.org, there is a lot of research on child molesters but online predators, by definition, are not child molesters. There is very little research focusing specifically on online predators.
“Although there is little research specifically about online child molesters, there are indications that they occupy a narrow range on the spectrum of the sex offender population, one that largely excludes pedophiles and violent or sadistic offenders”
Most online predators are not pedophiles. In fact, most are not violent.
So if they aren’t pedophiles and they aren’t violent, who are they? Online predators are calculated, social, patient, and highly adept as targeting the RIGHT victim.
A report on a high profile in Massachusetts paints a picture. “A profile of a new kind of sexual predator is emerging: one who is technically savvy, targeting girls between 12 and 15 — especially vulnerable girls who write openly about their problems. “Small and lost like me” was one message the Massachusetts girl wrote. She said she wanted to run away from home.”
Online predators are master manipulators. They build relationships and trust with their victims. They know how to turn an online relationship into an offline relationship. Over time, victims grow to trust the predator and most victims meet face-to-face willingly.
What Behavior Puts Kids at Risk?
Online folklore paints social media as the villain but using social media or even having a personal blog does not increase the risk that your child will become a victim. What makes them vulnerable is how they behave online.
What is risky behavior?
- Posting personal information publicly.
- Interacting with strangers online.
- “Friending” people they don’t know in real life.
- Talking about sex online.
- Looking at pornography
- Being rude to others online.
The sad truth is that online predators know how to pick targets. They are highly skilled at finding the right victims and using the right information. Not only will they look for markers such as the ones mentioned above but they can also identify a child in need of attention.
According to the FBI, “Those seeking face-to-face meetings create bogus identities online, sometimes posing as teenagers. Then they troll the Internet for easy victims—youngsters with low self-esteem, problems with their parents, or a shortage of money.”
Children and teenagers with behavioral issues such as higher attention seekers have a much higher risk than others.
What is Happening?
Engaging in these types of behaviors will increase the chances that your child will receive an aggressive sexual solicitation.
What is aggressive solicitation?
Aggressive solicitation is an attempt at offline contact.
YISS-2 found that 26% of the time the child actually knew the aggressor in real life but that leaves 74%…. Regardless of the familiarity between child and predator there are some statistics that shed light on how often what boundaries are crossed.
- 75% of solicitors asked to meet in person
- 24% called the child on the phone
- 18% visited the child’s house
- 12% gave the child a present
- 9% sent offline mail
- 3% bought the child a travel ticket
The process of selection follows a disturbingly simple flow:
1. The predator finds the right victim.
2. They establish common ground.
3. They build a friendship.
4. They test the waters by suggesting a sexual topic.
5. They move the relationship offline.
Where is it happening?
Clearly this is happening online and most victims are accessing the internet from a mobile phone.
Peter Davies adds that half of all child sexual exploitation takes place on social networks. In the US the NCA CEOP Command’s 2013 Threat Assessment on Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse put that same stat at 48.5%. Either way, that’s just half. What about the other half?
Chat rooms, instant messaging, internet forums, and video game consoles are all mediums.
How Can we protect our kids?
I have 10 tips for protecting your children from online predators.
ONE: If your child is under 16, get full access to their social media accounts and to their cell phone. It’s okay to explain to them that this is a learning period and that over time they will learn to use technology correctly and gain full control. With that said, maintain control over their privacy settings until they are 18.
TWO: Talk to them about risk factors and explain what an online predator is and what tactics they use to build relationships. Tell them to never meet face-to-face with someone they met online.
THREE: Be open to gay and lesbian culture. This is more important if you have a boy. It seems that boys who are not clear on their sexuality and don’t feel comfortable being who they are tend to explore those feelings online. This behavior does increase the risk that they will be a victim of online abuse.
FOUR: Most children don’t tell their parents when they encounter unwanted sexual advancements online for fear of losing privilages. Let them know that you are there to talk but give them alternatives as well. Make sure that they understand that it is their duty to protect others and show self respect. Almost all tools have options to report unwanted behavior. For example, Facebook has a tool to report inappropriate behavior and they provide access to help if needed.
FIVE: Use monitoring technology. There is software that can monitor online behavior. Tools like MyMobile Watchdog will monitor cell phone activity which seems to be the medium of choice for kids. This tool will let you monitor texts, block apps, set limits, and more.
SIX: Have uncomfortable conversations. Talk to your kids about online pornography and sexting. Not addressing these issues won’t keep your kids in a safe bubble.
SEVEN: Use caution with online gaming. Online gaming chat rooms can leave children vulnerable. Consider restricting gaming to offline until your child reaches a certain level of maturity.
EIGHT: Watch over the pictures your child posts using IFTTT. IFTTT will allow you to create rules such as “if my child posts a picture on Instagram, copy picture to a Google Drive”. This process is the same for Facebook and Twitter and will automate the process so that you can go back through when you have time to check appropriateness.
NINE: Learn a little text lingo.
PAW or PRW: Parents are watching
NIFOC: Naked in front of computer
PIR: Parents in room
POS: Parent over shoulder
P911: Parent emergency
(L)MIRL: (Let’s) meet in real life
A/S/L: Age, sex, location
TEN: Love your child. Giving your child love and attention is a great way to stop them from seeking it online.
6 Warning Signs That Your Child is in Trouble
1. Your child tends to use the computer at night.
2. Your child receives strange phone calls.
3. Your child receives gifts from a “friend”.
4. Your child is secretive about online activity.
5. You find pornography on your child’s computer.
6. Your child becomes withdrawn.
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