The internet did not create child predators, but it has significantly increased the opportunities sexual predators have to meet victims while minimizing detection. They can communicate with children anonymously through instant messaging, social networking sites, chat rooms, message boards, and even cell phones. The internet allows for a shroud of secrecy, in which predators can lie about who they are to pacify a child into a false sense of security, quickly building trust.
Grooming is a word used to describe how people who want to sexually harm children and young people get close to them, and often their families, and gain their trust. Grooming in the real world can take place in all kinds of places – in the home or local neighborhood, the child’s school, youth and sports clubs or the church. Online grooming may occur by people forming relationships with children and pretending to be their friend. They do this by finding out information about their potential victim and trying to establish the likelihood of the child telling. They try to find out as much as they can about the child’s family and social networks and, if they think it is ‘safe enough’, will then try to isolate their victim and may use flattery and promises of gifts, or threats and intimidation in order to achieve some control.
Pick up a major newspaper or watch the news on any given day and you will read about online sexual predators using technology to gain access to children for sexual contact. Not a single a social network or internet technology is immune from child predators. There are countless stories of adults grooming children through the internet and meeting for sexual encounters. In Fort Lauderdale, an adult male used SKYPE to engage in “video sex” and 143 pages of of sexually explicit online chat. In Texas, a sexual predator met a 14-year-old girl on INSTAGRAM and began having a sexual relationship with her. In Illinois, a sexual met a 14-year old in a chatroom and communicated online before agreeing to meet at his home where he sexually assaulted her.
Predators seek youths vulnerable to seduction, including those with histories of sexual or physical abuse, those who post sexually provocative photos/videos, and those who talk about sex with unknown people online. According to the latest research, one in twenty-five youths received an online sexual solicitation in which the solicitor tried to make offline contact. Online predators do not fit any one mold or stereotype; seemingly upstanding citizens have been caught enticing children for sexual acts. Contrary to popular belief, most online predators are not “pedophiles.” Pedophiles target pre-pubescent children, while online predators typically target adolescents who engage in risky online behavior. There is no greater risk to a child’s safety than an online predator who wishes to meet in person. There are some common sense safety tips every parent should know and discuss with their child before giving them online access: (1) Your child should only use a computer in an area of the home where the computer screen can be seen by an adult; (2) Your child should NEVER meet face-to-face with anyone they first met online;(3) Take an interest in your child’s online activities and know everyone with whom he or she is communicating; (4) Teach your child to refrain from ever talking about sex with anyone they meet online; (5) Ask questions, especially if your child is acting suspiciously; (6) Teach your child not to reveal any personal information; (7) Approve all photos and videos before your child posts them online. Make sure the pictures do not reveal identifying information and are not sexually provocative or inappropriate.
Federal law provides monetary damage remedies for victims of sexual abuse or sexual exploitation who met their perpetrators online.
If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual crime as a result of online computer activity, contact our law firm at (954) 524-2820 or send an email to sexual abuse lawyer Adam Horowitz at [email protected]