They can friend your child on Facebook and pretend to be harmless. Here are some tips for warding off online sexual predators.
In no way compromising or daring, the photo of a toddler in shorts and a t-shirt, taken on the beach during a family vacation, had been posted on the wall of his father's Facebook account. Accessible to everyone (it was public access), it was reworked in an ungraceful way, then distributed to the "buddies" of the author of the modifications, sexual predators.
The story is fictional, but very realistic. On the Internet, sexual predators target children and adolescents aged 6 to 18 on average. Teenagers nevertheless constitute the most accessible pool of victims for these individuals. “They spend a lot of time online and often have the impression that they are very knowledgeable, invulnerable, explains agent Daniel Thibaudeau, spokesperson for the Sûreté du Québec (SQ). Yet they are the ones most likely to frequent potentially dangerous sites. »
The frumpy old pervert who wanders down the street with his bowl of candy to lure the children is a false image of the typical portrait of the sexual predatorof today: in fact, points out Mr. Thibaudeau, the bowl of candy still exists, but on the Internet, it is bottomless… “Contemporary perverts” can be Mr. Everybody. "Sometimes a suspect's home is searched and family members are surprised to learn that their father or husband was committing these acts…", he adds.
Predator bait online
The approach tactics and decoys of these individuals have many faces. Their main calling card for finding their victims: social networks. These – Facebook and MySpace – as well as chat sites are often the ground of first contact: by lying about their age (they are getting younger), they try to gain the trust of their potential victim.
The “Rate My Pic” site is also popular with sexual predators: teens can upload a photo of themselves, which site visitors can rate. A positive note can obviously encourage flirtations… "The predators comment on the photos, they then invite the teenager or teenager to discuss in a "chat room", then they can possibly have a meeting with their potential victim", explains Agent Thibaudeau.
The other playground for voyeurs is the universe of avatars, these sites where Internet users can embody a character and live a virtual life. Among the “citizens” of these communities are hidden unwanted intruders. “Parents are advised tokeep an eye on the virtual life of their children…”, mentions the policeman.
Protecting yourself from online predators
The first essential prevention tool – and which specialists constantly recommend – is the choice of the location of the computer to which your children will have access: it must be visible at all times to the parents. "We can install firewalls, as well as other computer security tools," said the spokesperson for the Sûreté du Québec.
The very popular parental control software is also effective in protecting our children. They prevent access to certain sites, while allowing the computer to memorize each of the sites visited by your children and even each of the keys on the keyboard on which they have made their fingers dance… They are also called ghost software. Other software systematically and specifically blocks access to sites with sexual content.
Parents can also impose their own password to access social networks, adds agent Thibaudeau.
Watch out for the camera and the photos
The webcam may seem harmless when not activated. And yet… Sexual predators who mass-mail “joke of the day” can remotely activate the web camera of recipients who read the joke email. “Young people are recommended not to open e-mails from unknown origins, underlines theSQ spokesperson. But you can also lock the camera with a password.”
Picture sharing is also very popular with teenagers: once a young girl kindly presents her boyfriend with a photo of herself in a daring outfit, she can't control the viewing of this personal image. And if the romantic relationship is broken off on bad terms, the photo could end up on the Internet, accessible to evil eyes…
Speak, question and denounce
Technological weapons are not enough to shield our children against the strategies of sexual predators: we must also talk with the child. “With social networks for example: sometimes teenagers complain that they don’t have enough friends in their network. You can ask them what a friend really is to him or her,” suggests Agent Thibaudeau.
It is also strongly recommended that we explain to our children the tactics and means used by web perverts to lure their victims. Even better, you can work out scenarios with them, asking them how they would react to certain scenarios. "Young people are unfortunately often afraid to disturb, so we must insist," adds the spokesperson for the SQ.
You will also be able to closely follow the comings and goings, as well as the discussions, which take place in the social network accounts of your son or your daughter by inviting you to become his or her friend…
Parents, just likeadolescents, can also consult the Cyberaide site, whether to obtain information of all kinds about sexual predators on the Web, or to denounce a suspicious individual who is rampant in line. It is even possible to carry out a small verification of the identity of the latter thanks to the IP address (an identification number assigned to each device connection to a computer network) of the latter (the process is explained in the site of the Sûreté du Québec).
The site of the Sûreté du Québec also contains a great deal of information on this subject and parents can contact their police station at any time. they harbor a suspicion that their child will be caught between the cracks of a predator.
You can also get more information and advice on the Media-Awareness Network, on the RCMP website and on Cybercrime and Identity Theft.