It is well known that kids are heavy users of Internet communication tools such as social networking, chat rooms, e-mail, and instant messaging (IM). These are all a major part of their social life. Most of the time these tools are harmless and kids will use them to communicate with people they know in the “real world”, and to enhance their social lives. But you should also be aware of the fact that your children may be at potential risk of encountering online predators. This is especially true for those times when kids use these means in order to “meet new friends”, and it’s not always easy for them to tell when “new friends” have bad intentions.
You can’t see me!
Anonymity is a main characteristic of all these tools. Anyone can very easily take on a false identity and pretend to be someone else. Just recently a group of Canadian university students set up a false profile on Facebook of an attractive young girl (for experimentation purposes) and within minutes received dozens of accepts for friendship requests from their classmates, all aged 20 and over. Within 24 hours the girl had 25 new friends, some of whom were asking her out on dates and revealing their inner thoughts in online chat sessions.
So, this anonymity can facilitate a sense of intimacy but can also serve to hide the true identity of an online predator. Someone posing as a 15 year old teenager can in actuality be a 37 year old male. Online predators take advantage of this anonymity to build trust and intimacy and to develop online relationships with innocent young boys and girls of all ages. Those Canadian students meant no harm and they erased the false profile a few days later, but an online predator with bad intentions will very easily hide behind a false profile.
What do they want?
Some online predators primarily collect and trade child-pornographic images, while others seek face-to-face meetings with children. Pedophiles can be of any age or sex and do not necessarily fit the image of a dirty, disheveled, older man in a raincoat. It could be your next door neighbor for all you know!
Curios children and adolescents are often interested in sexuality and sexually explicit material and they may look for such materials and individuals when they are online. Sex offenders targeting children will use and exploit this interest.
I’m confused… are “online predators” and “pedophiles” the same thing?
Online predator and pedophile are terms that are often confused. So let’s try to understand the difference between these terms. Technically, online predators are not pedophiles as pedophiles prey on for young children, who haven’t reached puberty yet. Online predators tend to look for young teens. Online predators are sometimes also referred to as “cyber stalkers”.