The internet is one of the most important technological advancements of the 21st century and its increasing effects can be easily observed. Most of the consequences of the Internet have been beneficial and created a whole new realm for means of communication. The internet has allowed people from all over the world to communicate and exchange information in the blink of an eye opening up a virtual world for us to live in. With all these people communicating online through forums, social networks, chat rooms, and other endless ways, it is become impossible to determine who is who. There is no answer to this simple question because through the internet people are living multiple lives. It sounds very appealing to live one life in the real world, yet live a polar opposite life online that usually compensates for the first life. Just like in the real world, we have the “bad guys” who exist in the virtual world as well. There are a variety of criminals and frauds online but one of the types of “bad guys” that are rampant throughout the internet are sexual predators and pedophiles.
Sexual activity had greatly increased after the internet came about allowing easy access to pornography and other explicit web sites. This rise has sprung about many online sexual predators as well. A sexual predator refers to a person who is trying to make sexual contact with another person in any manner. The reason they are called predators, similar to real predators, is that they try to hunt down people for sex usually online. Keep in mind that this is different from a sex offender who has actually offended someone sexually. A sexual predator will just try to seek out sexual situations, for example when a man goes to a bar trying to get consensual sex from adult females. Sexual predators are very common on the internet.
This should be obvious since that is where mass and easy communication takes place between the world, and it is easy to find prey for them. A pedophile is a kind of sexual predator who specifically target and sexually abuse younger children. “Pedophiles are trying to eliminate the word “pedophile” and replace it with the more positive terms “boy lover,” “girl lover,” or the all-inclusive “child lover.” These values-neutral terms suggest that pedophiles don’t want to have sex with kids, they merely want to love them.” (Internet Sexual Predators: The New War is Words) This claim is false since most predators physically abuse these kids and leave them emotionally scarred for life. That is the opposite definition of “loving!”
Sexual predators are widespread on the internet and seem like normal people when you meet them. With our youth today using social networks such as MySpace or Facebook or even chat rooms such as MSN or AIM, it is very common that you will run across a sexual predator online without even knowing. According to the Crimes Against Children Research Center, “One in five U.S. teenagers who regularly log on to the Internet say they have received an unwanted sexual solicitation via the Web. Also, 25% of children have been exposed to unwanted pornographic material online.” (Online Child Predator Statistics 2005) More than two thirds of the sexual predators usually tend to target teenagers above age 14 more than younger children. It is said that about 1 out of every 7 youth are threatened by sexual predators online. Most predators will actually admit to their crime as we will see when we do all the case studies. Not to mention, the victims claim to have talked to or even see the predators beforehand. Sexual predators will usually try to find their victims through other people they know. Half of the time, children who are under age 6 are assaulted by family members. These victims who are assaulted by their own family members are less likely to report the crime causing and increasing fear of more unknown predators.
The internet houses a whole group of sexual predators, but the house is never full. Every year we see an increasing number of predators and wonder where they are all coming from. The reason for this boom of online predators is because most predators are attracting normal people to become sexual predators. For example, we wonder if pedophiles have sex with little kids because it’s unacceptable to do and wrong on many levels or because they are actually attracted to children. Pedophiles will try to convince other people that being attracted to little kids is acceptable and it is natural to want to have sex with them, thus creating more pedophiles. “They [pedophiles] are openly uniting against legal authorities and discussing ways to influence public thinking and legislation on child exploitation. A group of admitted pedophiles has even developed their creed, ‘The BoyLove Manifesto.’” (Faulkner 1997)
The internet technology is allowing pedophiles to exchange information about each other and their victims in a very organized manner. They find newer ways to meet other people and educate them on how to attract and exploit children. There are online forums where they discuss their past experiences and give safety tips on how to avoid trouble from parents as well as allow the abuse to remain hidden. Their community is rapidly increasing as well their support from fellow pedophiles. They feel safer now and are openly admitting their desire for child sex in their nicknames online. Pedophiles are even creating support websites for others to visit. It seems like sexual predators are trying to eliminate the term predator from their title and get more positive attention calling themselves “free spirits.”
It is hard to imagine how the youth falls for these traps set up by sexual predators and pedophiles. But the fact of the matter is that through practice and training, predators are actually really good at catching their prey. Using specific communications tactics as well as mind games, these predators give exactly what the victims need, gain their friendship as well as their trust, and then try to lure them into something more. Usually predators are looking for children that are either very innocent or very vulnerable. For example, when children are having fights with their parents or are suffering family trauma, that’s when they become extremely vulnerable and need a friend to talk to. The first step sexual predators take when talking to their victims is the phenomenon of “deceptive trust development.” “Deceptive trust development describes the predator’s ability to build a trusting relationship with the victim in order to improve the likelihood of sexual encounter.” (Jones 2008)
The process predators use to gain this trust and create this special bond with the children is through a process called grooming. They start by desensitizing the victim to sexual contact. “Grooming may include activities such as sitting on a child’s bed and watching them get into their bedclothes; “accidentally” touching the child inappropriately; showing the child pornographic images; and making contact or sex play with implicit sexual suggestions.” (Jones 2008) At the same time these predators try to get closer to their victim, they also try to isolate them from the rest of the world. They want their victim to feel that the predator is the most important person to them and is someone he or she can fully trust and be open in front of. Predators will try to break away physical and emotional ties the victim has with his or her family or friends and try to become his or her only support system. This causes the victim to become more and more dependent on the predator. To isolate from family and spend more time with the victim, the predator might offer to baby sit, give the child a ride home, and take advantage of other fragile situations in the family.
Another strategy used by sexual predators is foreplay. Predators use physical contact or suggestive verbal innuendos right before a sexual act takes place to make the victim more comfortable. “Examples of approach strategies include suggestions to play sex games, more explicit discussions about sexual issues, giving a child a “rubdown,” bathing or undressing a child, and instigating wrestling and other physical games as a means to escalate sexual physical contact.” (Jones 2008) Loreen Olson, an associate professor of communication, said “the more we know about how these adults are entrapping children and building a sexual relationship with them, the better we can either intervene and stop the cycle from happening, or de-escalate it.”
Fraud is a very useful tool sexual predators use by impersonating other people’s personality. Predators will make profiles online to attract others with similar interests. This is coming to be known as the “cut and paste” personality, where people steal quotes, likes, dislikes, and hobbies that makes them more attractive and more likely to be friends with their victims. Even on dating websites, about 10% of the people have admitted to copying from other people’s profiles. Not to mention, social websites such as Facebook and Myspace also have a lot of frauds. The first and foremost thing sexual predators lie about when introducing themselves to their victim is their age. To pass as a friend, they will claim to be the same age as their victim that way they can get closer to the victim and gain full trust.
A great place to meet sexual predators online is Facebook (www.facebook.com) and MySpace (www.myspace.com). Facebook is a very popular website for social networking and is now open to each and every individual to use for free. It was not like this when it came out a couple years ago for it was meant to be a social network for college students only and you needed a college email to belong to that college network. But as its popularity grew, high school students and eventually parents were allowed to join this website. This has opened a door for sexual predators to linger around on this website and make it unsafe for others to use.
There have been investigations where they have found pornographic images and videos as well as profiles of potential sexual predators. The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) set up several undercover Facebook profiles representing users between ages twelve and fourteen. The received many explicit comments from adults saying “u look too hot…can I c u online (webcam)?” or “i’d love to get off on cam for you hun ;P” or “do you life sex?” (Facebook Ignores Complaints… 2007) Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut’s attorney general, said that they had already found cases of sexual predators and profiles with inappropriate images and content. Although, the privacy offer of Facebook claimed to be removing such profiles in less than 72 hours when reported. Facebook was supposed to be a safer website and network than MySpace when launched with features that allow more privacy. Facebook has many features that lure sexual predators. For example, you can tell people what your relationship status is. There are even options there such as “random play” and “whatever I can get.” Recently a bill was passed called the Electronic Security and Targeting of Online Predators Act or E-Stop that restricts certain sex offenders’ use of the Internet. E-Stop would make sex offenders register any and all emails accounts and Internet identifiers used in instant messaging, chatting, and other forms of Internet communication.
MySpace is another social networking website but is less commonly used since Facebook has become popular. In 2006, the US House of Representatives passed a “Deleting Online Predators Act” (DOPA), which required schools, school districts, and libraries receiving federal funds to prohibit access through computers that contain images that are obscene, relating to child pornography, or harmful to minors. MySpace, with over 76 million users, has profiles that violate this bill. MySpace has “become a haven for online sexual predators that have made these corners of the Web their own virtual hunting ground.” (Smith 1997) More than 1/3 of MySpace’s staff is dedicated to insure the site’s safety, though seem quite inefficient with their work since even porn stars can manage to get profiles on MySpace. “Among the dozens of measures MySpace has agreed to take, the social network will let parents submit the e-mail addresses of their children, so the company can prevent anyone from using that address to set up a profile. It will also set the profiles of all 16 and 17-year-olds to private, so only their established online friends can visit their pages – essentially creating a “closed” section for users under age 18.” (Stone 2008)
To clearly understand the seriousness of this topic we must investigate some of the encounters sexual predators have had and their consequences. There are probably many more cases than expected because so many go unreported. These children are too naïve to understand that personalities can be faked on the internet and pedophiles and sexual predators are taking advantage of this fact. By using a similar pattern as mentioned above and observed below, sexual predators get to know your address, phone number, family info and eventually want to set up a meeting place.
This first example is about a girl named Susan, who met another “young girl” online. The “young girl” was having problems with her mom and approached Susan to get help from her. The “young girl” wanted to talk to Susan because she was extremely depressed and got Susan’s phone number from her. Then, that “young girl” calls Susan and turns out to be a 50 year old man who threatens Susan. He tells her that she needs to do things for him on the web cam and if she doesn’t, he will rape and kill her; and if she tells her mom, he will rape and kill them both. She was scared and told her mother regardless. Eventually, the FBI got involved and handled the situation by arresting the predator.
There was a 14-year-old girl living in the Midwest who started an online relationship with a 30 year old Los Angeles county man named Umberto Hernandez. He found her profile on Yahoo and became friends with her. For several months, they would communicate about various topics including those relating to sex. During winter holidays, she had come to Los Angeles to visit her father and decided to also meet her “internet friend.” On New Year’s Eve, he lured her into his van and performed sexual acts with her. She returned home traumatized and reported the incident to school authorities. The police communicated with the predator online through the girl’s profile and set up a sting operation to catch him. He was supposed to meet at her father’s home in Los Angeles, where the police were expecting him and arrested him as soon as he came in. Hernandez was charged with five counts of lewd acts upon a child and another count of attempted lewd act upon a child. After pleading guilty to his misdemeanor, he was sentenced to three years in prison and five years of formal probation. It was also necessary for him to register himself as a sex offender.
In another story, there is a man and woman who are teachers at John Muir School in Pasadena. They used the internet to seduce students to have sex with them through emails and chat. The male teacher, Cyrus Javaheri, engaged in cyber sex as well as intercourse with more than one student who was only 11 years old. His computer contained evidence for this lewd behavior including pictures of half-nude victims and child pornography. The female teacher, Tina Dezerne, who was also Cyrus’s girlfriend, lured girls into having group sex with them. They both got caught and pleaded guilty, where Tina was placed on three years probation and Cyrus was sentenced to 16 months in prison. Tina also had to do community service for 240 hours and Cyrus had to register himself as a sex offender upon his release.
A 15-year old boy assumed the identity of a girl he had once gone to school with years earlier. Creating an online profile, he would meet strangers online and engage them in sexual acts. He would then tell them to call the fake girl for sexual favors as well as send and receive pornographic images. He mentioned this fake girl’s phone number as well as address in her profile. Eventually, these random men would call that number and want to talk to this girl they had met online by using sexual code phrases. After people started to make sense of this scam, they informed the police and through caller ID caught the boy who was the fake girl. He was found and pleaded guilty to identity theft.
There was one specific case on MySpace about a couple friends who decided to create a fake profile of this girl to seduce one of their other friends who had just gotten out of a relationship and was really depressed. This idea was a great success as the boy started forget about his ex girlfriend and get closer and closer to this girl he met online, who in reality is a façade and merely in the imagination of his friends. In this process, some old guy started to stalk this girl and would talk to her a lot. He would make lewd comments and want to meet to engage in sexual acts. This scared the boys so they contacted the police. The police set up a sting operation, and through this fake girl’s profile caught the sexual predator.
As observed above, there are a variety of sexual predators out there that will do whatever it takes to satisfy their needs even if it means performing vile and unethical acts. There even exist such predators that are not afraid to admit it to the public. Jack McClellan says he is a pedophile and has a website that proves it. “I guess the main thing is I just think they’re cute, a lot cuter than women. I admit there is kind of an erotic arousal there,” McClellan told Fox News back in March (Carney 2007) Jack is actually a law abiding pedophile, and even though he has received a lot of complaints from the public, he seems to be living a happy life where he fantasizes without breaking any law. Jack’s website reads, “The primary purpose of this site is to promote association, friendship; and legal, nonsexual, consensual touch (hugging, cuddling, etc) between men and prepubescent girls. I don’t practice sexual touching of such girls, am not a sex offender, and am not prohibited from being around children.” (Carney 2007) This informative website talks about what pedophiles can and cannot do as well as a place to inform parents about their kind of people. It is quite rare for someone to be so proud of being a sexual predator as well as admitting to it online!
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