rcasa

RCASA’s Sunday Book Review: Innocence Lost? Protecting your child from the trauma of abuse

In Outreach, Sexual Assault Awareness on March 14, 2010 at 7:29 am

Debbie Mahoney’s personal experience with the abuse of her son by a neighbor, has led her on a 10 year, world wide journey that has given her great insight into protecting children from sexual assault.

Mahoney resigned her position at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in August 1996 to devote her life and her personal resources to keeping children safe.  She works with law enforcement, technology specialists, and child advocacy groups around the world to ensure the safety of children.  Her organization monitors pedophiles, their advocates, and their online activities, coordinating information with law enforcement officials.

The book is filled with techniques on how to protect your children or help them if they’ve already been abused. With this book you’ll learn about a pedophile’s documented behavior and how they gain a child’s trust; online and offline community dangers will be identified for you; and you’ll be given safety tips for both you and your children to follow. In addition, Debbie includes URL’s, hot line numbers and Web Sites which offer more information to help in the fight against child abuse.

Excerpt from, “Innocence Lost?  Protecting Your Child from the Trauma of Abuse,” page 36.

“What instant messages provide to pedophiles: Private messages give pedophiles the “pot of gold” they had up to this point been denied, instant communication with children on a worldwide basis.  It is not uncommon for pedophiles to sit in chat rooms, watch for the children that appear the most vulnerable and gather information on the likes/dislikes of a child.  The next step is the ability to communicate in private with that child.  What can happen?

•  Communication online in an attempt to gain access to and commit an off-line offense.

•  The communication allows pedophiles to access children to start the grooming and courtship process, and establish trust.

•  It allows adults or pedophiles to start children slowly having cybersex (typing out sexual scenarios on the keyboard to one another), to desensitize children for sexual contact.

•  Private instant messages allows, in some applications, for files to be transferred without ever going on the web.  In a single application adult porn and child porn can be immediately sent to the child.  This is done by allowing the direct transfer of information between two parties, without ever going through any outside sources.  This results in completely private, one-on-one communication, which cannot be monitored by anyone other than the two parties conversing with one another.”

E-mailing is another area that allows close contact without revealing the real person behind the letters.  Without parental controls inappropriate site addresses, inappropriate messages, and inappropriate contact can be delivered right into our children’s hands.

Finally, there are thousands of newsgroups available for anyone to join.  While many are special-interest groups it often requires posting messages that display individual address and information about participants.  None of this information is filtered and therefore the content within can be inappropriate for children.

All of these dangers seem daunting to adults trying to make the Internet experience positive for children.  There are solutions to help.

By far the best solution is adult supervision.  Placing computers in an area that can be seen by everyone allows parents to see what children are working on and whom they are talking to.  There is no better substitute.  Limiting Internet time to when adults are present is also a good idea.

If you allow your child to participate in chat rooms or if they are clever enough to go out on the internet alone, devise a game plan so that if your child is contacted and they are asked to meet with someone, that they tell you about it.  Set up guidelines that if they feel uncomfortable about any conversation, and kids can have a sixth sense about this stuff, that they tell you about this too.

For the times when your children are away from you, talk to them clearly about the dangers.  Give them examples and talk to them truthfully about the subject.  Role-playing conversations can give kids an idea of how information can be extracted without them even realizing it.  Be honest and open. It’s not safe to cross the street without looking. Think of the Internet as a huge highway with a lot of Greyhound buses and motorcycles whizzing by. Unfortunately, on the Internet even what looks like a police car may not be a police car.  For young children it is basically not safe at all to cross this highway.

There are many filtering software programs available today, like Net Nanny or CyberSitter.   These programs have become much more sophisticated, allowing searches for topics while filtering out adult content sites.  Talk to your local and state representatives about having filtering software installed on computers in schools and libraries.  It is a tool that, in the long run, would be well worth tax dollars.

Many Internet providers also have parental control access.  This allows adults to limit access while their children are online. It can allow them to simply not receive IM’s such as on America On Line. And it can disallow them from going into chat rooms at all. It is highly recommended that profiles on line are left blank. The reason for this is because pedophiles search profiles for age, sex and interests and software programs such as AOL will actually list hundreds of profiles on line and show when someone is on line with an asterisk. In other words, your child does not need to be in a chat room to be hunted down by a pedophile! If the profile for a child is left blank, the molester will have no data to hunt with.

Finally, as a parent or guardian, don’t assume anything.  Don’t assume that your children know the safety rules of the Internet.  Stay vigilante and pay attention.  Place the computer in an area that makes monitoring easy and discuss with your child what they are doing on line and what they like about it. Don’t think of the computer as a babysitter, it is a huge mistake.

Don’t assume that filtering software will block access to all dangers a child comes in contact with. These programs do the best they can, however, things change on an hourly basis on the Internet. Remember nothing takes the place of parental monitoring.

Don’t assume that your child knows not to give out their name and/or address.  Ensure your child understands that they should never accept files from anyone, without your presence. Again, here is another reason not to fill out a profile on line since random emails can be sent to see if one “hits” by a pedophile.

If your child is chatting with others on line, don’t assume that the person your child is chatting with is a minor. Your kids need to know this too.  Remember that profiles are not dependable when it comes to classifying online friends.  Profiles are information that the individual wants known. It is a sad commentary, but many people, pedophile or not, lie about themselves on the Internet. They misrepresent who they are or what they do or where they live, all the time.

Teenagers are harder to control on the net and most likely have more computer knowledge than you do anyway, they will chat on line.  Ensure that they know NEVER to meet anyone in public that they have communicated with online without your presence. If they truly have met someone they like, suggest a meeting at the mall and drive them there, meet the person too.  Check them out.

Don’t assume you cannot find out what they are accessing.  Check the browser bookmarks, favorite places, cache or history. These will show each site that has recently been visited.  Check the harddrive of the computer for images, searching for .gifs and .jpegs.  Remember that predators often send adult porn to children to desensitize them from sexual content and child porn to show the child that other children are sexual; sending them a message that it is okay.

If you are going to allow your children access to the computer, learn to use it yourself so that you can be educated and vigilant.

Don’t assume there is nothing you can do if you suspect someone is trying to lure or harm your child.  Notify your local police agency and local Customs or FBI office.  It is a crime to lure children on the Internet.

Finally, education is the most important tool you can possess to understand what can happen to your children on the Internet.  Don’t assume that danger outweighs the good information available.  You must be knowledgeable enough to help your children obtain that knowledge safely. With precautions, the Internet can bring a wealth of information and useful data to you and your family.

Our kids have the world at their fingertips for learning and fun, as long as we, the adults, stay involved and pay attention, just as we would offline.  You wouldn’t drop your child off in a big city and tell them to have fun, don’t drop your child off on the Internet and expect them to remain safe.

The issues of filtering solutions are being investigated more closely by schools and libraries. This will make it more difficult for kids to access these areas.  Government also plays a role because tax dollars are often used to fund these institutions.  Currently laws are being drafted that will provide filtering solutions to insure these areas are less accessible to kids.  Contact your local Representative to find out if filtering solutions are in place in your schools and libraries.

Prepare your children for the dangers.  Give them the tools to be more prepared should someone try and harm them.  Become fully engaged in their Internet usage, you can learn more about your child and they about you by the sharing and discussion of what is found “out there!”  Don’t allow the opportunist predator to become the one that will listen to them.

Following are sites that will help you should you need further guidance.

http://www.customs.treas.gov

http://www.fbi.gov

http://www.nemec.org

http://www.soc-um.org

http://www.cyberanges.org

http://www.getnetwise.org

While the issue of child sexual abuse, child abduction, and child internet lures scares even the most hardened parent, the ability to recognize dangers that exist and prepare ourselves and our children is far more important.  Knowledge is power.  It is that power alone that will ensure the safety of our children, and their children.

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