In 2002, a bright 13 year girl named Alicia Kozakiewicz was abducted by an online predator she met on Yahoo chat. With the help of the FBI, she managed to escape, but not before she was taken interstate, assaulted, filmed and held in captivity. After her miraculous rescue, she launched “The Alicia Project” to prevent children from being abducted and to support children who have. The project provides internet safety and awareness education to parents, children, teachers, governments and agencies.
Here are some sobering statistics about online predators.
Statistics are from http://www.internetsafety101.org/predatorstatistics.htm
- Online predators used social networking sites to gain information about
- the child’s likes and dislikes (82% cases)
- home and school information (65% cases)
- whereabouts (25% cases)
- Most children will not report sex crimes to an adult out of shame and/or embarrassment
- 1/7 children received a sexual solicitation online. Over half (56%) of sexually solicited kids were asked to send a picture, with 27% of the pictures being sexually-oriented in nature. In some (4%) cases, these requests were aggressive and involved threats to their offline lives
- About 200 million girls and 100 million boys will be sexually victimized before they reach their adulthood
“Predators do not discriminate based on gender, ethnicity, education, socioeconomic status, income, or religion. It can happen. It does happen. It is happening.” AliciaProject.org
To become a victim, you only have to be unlucky enough to cross paths with a predator. If this happens, you may still be able to defeat them if the right precautions are taken.
1. Disable geotagging on mobile devices before taking photos of children
Geotagging uses GPS trackers to pinpoint your location. While Geotagging is turned on by default and can be useful for some applications (e.g. Google Maps), you can turn it off for others (e.g. photos/videos of children). There are many online resources that provide step-by-step instructions on how to do this. Neglecting to do so may actually be giving away free information to the predators.
Example: You share a picture of your daughter with your 200 Facebook friends. In the photo, she is at home opening a birthday gift. 50 friends like and comment on the photo. This simple action can provide an online predator with information about where she lives, how old she is, name of her parents and what she likes.
Tip 1: Turn off geotagging/check privacy settings when taking photos/videos of children, especially when you are at a place where your child frequents (home/school).
Tip 2: When friends take photos/videos of your children, kindly remind them to do the same before publishing these photos/videos online. You cannot control their privacy/sharing settings and you don’t know who they are friends with (they may not even know)
2. Don’t “check in” to your home or someone else’s home
While many people try to keep their home address and landline phone details private, they can be surprisingly lax when it comes to “Check In’s” on their social media. Even for those who know not to check-in to their own home, they may leave their judgement behind when they check in at their friends home. E.g. “At Dan’s 8th birthday!” or “Checking out Mary’s impressive diamond collection”.
This happened to me a while ago, a friend checked in at my house. At the time, it wasn’t a big deal as I was living in a rental with no assets and no children (not much has changed since) but I learnt a lesson from that and now remind my friends not to check in when they come over. I can imagine this being a bigger deal if my circumstances were different.
Tip 3. Do not check in at your home and kindly remind your friends not to check in at yours. You can’t blame them if they did not know
3. Monitor child activity online
Some people may disagree with spying on anyone but with the growing use of mobile and tablets, kids are spending more time online. This places them at risk of accessing porn/illegal sites, publishing unemployable content, sexting, getting groomed by predators/terrorists, cyberbullying, oversharing personal information and more. It is for this reason why the benefits of child monitoring, combined with site blocking and education, may outweigh any costs. It is also legal and ethical as long as kids are aware they are being monitored. It remains unethical and illegal to spy on spouses/friends or any adults.
Monitoring their online behaviour also sets them up for the real world. Everything we do online is monitored in some way or form by our ISP, government or employer so getting children accustomed to the idea that online is not private, is not a bad thing to learn.
There are applications available that allow parents to monitor their children’s online behaviour. For a small price, the options are quite comprehensive and parents are able to adjust the settings to suit their needs. When selecting an application, also do some background research on the company to ensure you are comfortable with how they manage the information collected.
Tip 4: Monitor your children’s online behaviour, but also ensure they are kept educated.
For more tips, please go to http://www.aliciaproject.org/internet-safety-tips.html (highly recommended reading).