An initiative by the Queensland Police called Who’s chatting to your kids? gives parents, teachers and carers practical information on how to protect children online and what to look for if you think a child is being approached by a predator.

The internet and advances in technology have been embraced by sex offenders who are very good at exploiting new modes of communication to gain access to children.

The rules children learn about meeting new people in the real world also apply when they meet and ‘chat’ with people online. They should not talk to strangers or give out any personal information to an unknown person who they meet or talk to on the phone.

Social Networking
Accessing social networking sites on the internet allows teenagers to meet and connect with other friends and users from around the world.

Regardless of how safe teenagers feel using the computer in their own home, they need to know that there are people out there looking for ways to target children online.

They listen to and empathise with children and their problems in order to build a rapport with them. They make themselves aware of the latest music, movies, television shows and interests.

Some sex offenders try to lower a child’s inhibitions by slowly introducing sexual context and content into their conversations, while others immediately engage in sexually explicit conversation. Some will seek a face-to-face meeting with your child.

Children can be identified and located by a predator if they give out the following information:

  • Personal details made available via the internet (including on their social networking pages and on their friends pages)
  • Photos of themselves wearing clothing that may identify their membership of a club, association or school or taken in front of an easily identifiable landmark
  • Identifying information that a child’s friend has disclosed during conversations, and
  • Email address distribution lists (included on group emails).

Instant messaging (IM)
Instant messaging (IM) is very similar to email or SMS messaging. It is a powerful communication tool that allows teenagers to send and receive files, photos, audio and video content from their friends.  IM programs can be a direct link between a child and an online predators.

Some children believe that having large numbers of contacts or friends in their ‘buddy’ or friends list increases their social status. It is important that a young person actually knows everyone on their contact list prior to chatting with them. They should be able to say the person’s real name and how they met them.

Online Chat Rooms
These programs allow users to select a “room” based on a particular interest or topic. Once in a chat room they can then instantly have online conversations with anyone (using both voice and text chat).

Chat rooms have proven to be a dangerous destination for children because of the large number of predators actively using them. Children’s topics are often mixed in with adult conversation or topics (many unsuitable for children).

These types of internet communication platforms should be avoided by children or strictly monitored by parents due to the high degree of risk associated with them.

Be aware that it is easy for predators to pretend they are children by creating a child’s profile and building a rapport during chat with your child.

Warning! – Predators often ask the child to transfer to an instant messaging application in order for them to web cam, swap pictures and continue the grooming process.

Tips for parents with children engaged in social networking:

  • Choose a non identifiable, non gender specific username
  • Never give out any personal information whilst using IM or other networking programs. This includes their real name, telephone or mobile phone number, mailing address, passwords or banking details
  • Never accept a friend, file or download from a person you don’t know, this includes links to a website, and
  • Know how to save copies of your child’s IM conversations.

Mobile Phones
Child sex offenders have been known to send mobile telephones to young people as gifts. This gesture is part of the grooming process, and can result in the child feeling indebted to the predator. In some cases, they have paid the child’s telephone bills to ensure that communication can continue without the knowledge of the child’s parents.

The latest mobile phones are of great worry; they include features such as satellite navigation, web access, video and still cameras and GPS (global positioning system) location capability.

Children should be made aware that they are committing serious criminal offences by taking, possessing or sending nude or sexually explicit photos of themselves or someone else and may be liable to prosecution. They also need to understand that filming and sending out events such as the sexual assault of another person is also breaking the law and carries severe consequences.

Tips for parents of children with mobile phones:

  • Choose a mobile phone for your child that does not feature internet access, or alternatively speak with your carrier to block internet access. All carriers provide this service
  • Talk to your carrier about blocking services that are not required on your child’s phone. While GPS and other features can be useful, consider the implications of a complete stranger being able to pinpoint the exact location of your child. Blocking or restricting services can include the opportunity to limit incoming and outgoing calls, text, instant messaging and picture messages
  • Monitor your child’s telephone usage and be wary of gifts your child receives from unfamiliar people, particularly mobile phones
  • Consider setting strict guidelines regarding your child’s use of the phone. For example, advise your child to use the mobile phone for emergencies and calls to home only
  • Consider purchasing a pre-paid SIM card (available from your carrier) that strictly limits the use of the phone – once the limit is reached the phone card needs to be re-charged with credit
  • Talk to your child about the appropriate use of camera phones. If your child has a camera phone then it is important you set some guidelines for its use, including when taking photos of others. Ask your child to let you know if anyone else’s use of a camera phone makes them feel uncomfortable
  • Stress the importance of not responding to any messages from unknown people. If your child receives persistent calls or messages from an unknown person, you should report it to the police, taking note of the number and saving any messages or pictures on the mobile handset.

Web Cams
Sex offenders seek out and chat to children with web cams and can place enormous pressure on them (even blackmail them) to transmit indecent images of themselves. It is also very common for predators to use web cameras to transmit images of themselves performing sex acts.

Once a child has transmitted an indecent image across the internet, that image can be saved or uploaded to the internet for public viewing. It is all but impossible to remove the image as it can be copied and downloaded again and again.

Parents should carefully consider the implications of allowing their children to have unsupervised access to web cameras.

Writer Helen Splarn. Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha
Source: Queensland Police