Cyber Predators Prey on Children? Use Internet to Victimize Children
Media stories about “cyber predators” who use the internet to gain access to young victims have become very common since the time internet has unknowingly become part and parcel of lives of every Pakistani especially minors (children under the age of 18). But still many of us don’t know who cyber predators are and what they do?
“People have always lied, cheated and stolen, but the Internet enables some of them to do it more easily, quickly, and cheaply.”
And the answer is “a cyber-predator is a person who uses the internet to victimize or take advantage of a child through any possible way like emotionally, sexually, financially or psychologically. They are highly skilled at manipulating their victims, creating trust and friendship where none should exist in order to take advantage.
The internet has become very important in society; it is present in the majority of households in Pakistan, but it is also becoming a new venue particularly for cyber predators. An exceptional feature of the internet is that it has removed the barriers of contact, allowing adults to freely interact with young. Most of the time these interactions are casual and harmless, but sometimes these interactions may result in negative consequences. Online predators have the advantage of the anonymity of the internet. This means that they can easily hide their appearance, age, and gender behind a digital screen.
How cyber predators work?
We normally teach our children never to talk to strangers or accept lifts/gifts from people they do not know. In today’s era, the internet has made it possible to get acquainted with strangers while knowing very little about their identity and intentions. This relationship of unknown may mislead to lure young into unfortunate or inappropriate relationships. This process of befriending a young person online is known as grooming.
Grooming is a term used to describe the carefully planned tempting of potential victims by cyber predators with the goal of establishing offline (meeting in real life) and ultimately physical contact. This victimization usually initiates with contacting the victim via chat rooms, instant messaging, e-mail or social networking sites, building trust, sharing little secrets to make the victim feel important, and, also by sending them money, or gifts (a way to ask about victim’s home address). Cyber predators disguise themselves with the opportunity. For instance, if a chat room is only for children, an online predator may pretend to be a child in order to make an interaction.
Online predators normally target young people. Adolescents are most vulnerable as they are going through a period of change where they like to move beyond parental control, trying to look independent and to establish new relationships. However, some cyber predators also target adults with the aim of financial exploitation.
Online accounts and user profiles especially of young children have resulted in detailed information sources for cyber predators. This extensive and searchable online accumulation of personal information undermines the privacy of children. Even unpretentious information available on profiles such as the schools attended, sports played by children, or even a sports shirt number make them vulnerable to predators. A 15-year young girl innocently posting a selfie with her friends standing next to her car (showing number plate) doesn’t realize that she is also exposing to a predator where she lives and who are her friends. Children are susceptible to compromise their safety by innocent and harmless sharing information to others interested in online and offline contact.
Cyber predators depend on cheating and manipulation to avoid detection and gain trust and confidence of the child. Predators are highly professional in gradually increasing the intensity of the relationship with a child and cautiously reducing the shyness of the child. At a certain age child’s emotional loneliness is the easiest time to attack.
Once a predator has established a relationship with a victim and won victims trust, the predator then moves forward as per his plan by sharing pornographic material and sometimes gifts a cell phone so calls or texts will not be shown or accessed by parents. This process of victimization is targeted at paralyzing the child’s senses to nudity, enhancing the child’s curiosity about sex and approving adult-child sexual relations. Finally, this process suggests photographing the child in sexually seductive poses by sending them some fake seductive photos picked up from the internet and convincing them to send nude images of them, undress on a live webcam.
At any stage of this victimization, if the child expresses any sign of indifference and attempts to avoid the calls or online chats, predator comes into action and starts threatening that he will expose him/her to parents what he or she has been hiding from then and how he or she has responded to pornographic materials. This threatening leads to scare the victim and a new term has come into play widely known as “sextortion” begins. Sextortion takes this play to next level of victimization and in exchange for not exposing the victims’ sensational information to his/her parents, the predator demands money or sex.
Why cyber predators do this?
Cyberworld has created a highway for cyber predators where they can get their digitally gloved hands on information free and anonymously. They can easily connect like-minded and motivated people who are interested in deviant behavior and also innocent who fall their prey. Predators can be of any age, sex and are unbound by socio-economic status or racial heritage. They have a limitless playground to recommit their crime than any other criminal does. Here are some reasons why predators do this:
- The unlimited digital world acts as a bloodline directly feeding into their veins.
- They can easily satisfy their criminal needs anytime, practically anywhere, and with an endless supply of opportunities.
- They have something to hide and their computer screen isolates them from the external world.
- They become addicted to the world of deviant behavior on the internet.
- They develop an inner desire to commit a crime.
- They want to receive the affection and high regard for their acts.
- The cyber world makes them feel valued and important and gives them a sense of belonging in the world.
- They always have a longing to be a part of and connected to something or someone.
- Loneliness, distress, longing and eventually social hostility inspire them to commit the crime.
- In their own wrapped sense, they think that they are doing something of significance.
- They earn more than any other business even the drug trade.
All these traits and seclusion compel them to do something wrong and above all the satisfaction a crime provides is unmatchable to them. They treat these crimes as if it’s a full-time job and also a fastest growing online business.
Which young people are at risk of cyber predators?
“People who do not believe that their children could ever become victimized online are living in an unrealistic world. Regardless of if your child makes ‘As’ or not, that child has the potential to become victimized through online technologies. I think it is very important for parents of all socioeconomic status and with all different roles in society to take this problem very seriously.”
Young children especially under age of 18 years are the most susceptible and are at greater risk of being approached by cyber predators. They are at the initial stage of gaining their sexuality, finding ways to move away from parental control, looking for new friends and tend to like new relationships outside the family. With the disguise of anonymity, young children are more likely to fall in online traps without fully understanding the potential implications. Young people who are most vulnerable to online predators tend to be:
- New to online activity and are not familiar with internet etiquettes “Netiquette”
- In need of attention or affection
- Rebellious by nature
- Isolated or lonely either emotionally or physically
- Always curious to try something new
- Attention or affection seekers
- Confused about sexual identity
- Attracted by subcultures of others
- Easily tricked by adults
- Like diversity
- Willing to chat openly
- Typically of the female gender
- Open or interest in talking about physical relationships
- Frequently uses the internet
- Mostly uses internet unsupervised
- Ready to reveal personal information
Young children in pursuit of independence pose themselves as they are aware of the dangers of predators, but truthfully speaking they are quite naive about online offenders. It’s a general trend in Pakistan that children aged 11 to 14 initially disguise their identities in chat rooms. However, it is also a fact that it is impossible to maintain a false identity for long and eventually they start revealing personal information when predators make them feel that they could trust him/her. Trust building time period varies from 15 minutes to several weeks but it’s not a long time for a professional predator to wait.
To counter predators what should we teach our children?
We as parents and responsible citizens of Pakistan and to protect our children today and in future, we should teach them following measures to be adhered to:
- Teach them the use common sense
- To trust their gut feeling seems too good to be true
- Thorough due diligence
- They should ask for references if an unknown mail or call is received
- Never share personal information
- Not to meet strangers in-person alone
- Be aware of criminals
- Be confident and your own detective
- Be clear about why sex with underage adolescents is wrong
- Never downloading images from an unknown source – they could be sexually explicit
- Approach their parents immediately if anything happens online that makes them feel uncomfortable or frightened
- Ask them to use a gender-neutral screen name that doesn’t contain sexually suggestive words or reveal personal information
As parents, it’s our duty to arm them with information instead of inspiring fear in our children. So we should teach them there may be someone, who could approach them online and indulge then into sharing personal information, exchange pictures, and/or meet in person, and it might be someone who they think is an online friend. But it’s not a reason to be afraid all the time. It’s simply a matter of knowing that if someone starts asking for personal information or openly talks about sexual stuff, it’s time to get rid of that so-called friend and ask for help from an adult.
What should parents do to protect their children?
Parents should be nearest to their children and they should create an atmosphere of trust so that children will not hesitate in sharing things. From different studies measures given below are extracted that parents should know:-
- Strengthen the bond with children so that predators can’t break it and talk to them about sexual predators and potential online dangers.
- Make children believe that parents are the best defense against criminals.
- Educate your children about the names of body parts and clear identification of those that are private.
- Parents must have clear rules for appropriate and inappropriate interaction between children and adults (or older children).
- Educate them the importance of being assertive and standing up for themselves when someone attempts inappropriate touching or tries to harm them.
- Make them understand that some adults in positions of trust, including close relatives, teachers/educators, may behave inappropriately.
- Ask them not to keep secrets if someone asks to take nude pictures or videos, to take your clothes off, to touch private areas and anything that makes them feel scared, uncomfortable, or upset.
- Never let your children be alone with school employees. It is important to make sure that your children also understand that they should not to be alone with school employees and if it happens so, file a complaint and demand disciplinary action.
- Field trips away from school, especially those that involve overnight stays, represent a particularly dangerous time for children accompanied by a sexual predator posing as a teacher or school helper. Tell children to be overly cautious at such times and never be alone with anyone.
- Don’t allow young children to use chat rooms, as the dangers are too great. As children get older, direct them towards well-monitored kids’ chat rooms. Even teenagers should be encouraged to use monitored chat rooms.
- Educate children to use chat room’s public area only. As some chat rooms offer users one-on-one chats with other users and chat monitors or other users can’t read these conversations.
- Place the internet-connected computer in a common room of the house, never in a child’s bedroom. It puts the predator in difficulty to establish a relationship with a child if the computer screen is easily visible by parents.
- When children are young, they should share the family e-mail address rather than having their own e-mail accounts.
Despite all your efforts if all precautions fail and children do meet a cyber-predator, don’t blame them. The offender always takes advantage of such situations and make children believe that they understand them more than their parents.