Jeter: Beware of Internet sex predators

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 30, 2011

Recent headlines prove sexual predators exist – just ask the local families involved in two cases in which* men allegedly used social media websites to solicit young children.

The Internet offers anonymity to those who would prey on children, and predators look for children who are more technically savvy than their parents. Now, Assistant District Attorney Grace Jeter said her office believes it’s only a matter of time before more similar cases are reported.

“We are a technology-driven society,” Jeter said. “One of the things we can’t lose sight of is the fact that we must talk with our children. Let them know they can tell us, as parents, anything. Keep those lines of communication open.

“With that said, in this day and time, it’s very easy to pretend you’re someone you’re not when on the Internet – a fact that makes it easy to gain the trust of a child,” she said.

With social media websites and the availability of instant messaging (IM-ing) and chat rooms, predators can easily find information about potential victims since many naive children list personal information with no regard for safety.

Even simple statements listed on a profile such as school attended, sport played or even what jersey number worn can allow predators to target them.

Once a predator IMs or chats with a victim and gains their trust, they often send pornographic pictures via the IM session or email.

Oftentimes, if the victim tries to cut off communication, predators will often convince them that they will tell their parents what they have been doing online and that they have viewed pornographic pictures, etc. and scare the victim into continuing the relationship.

“If you allow your child to have a Facebook or MySpace account, get access to it and monitor it,” Jeter said. “Pay attention to who their friends are and who they’re chatting with. If your child is 14 and constantly chatting with a 35-year-old, something is not right there. That’s the kind of thing you look for. Read their chat histories.

“And remind your children that sometimes people on the Internet aren’t who they say they are,” she said. “All it takes is for someone to set up a fake account, grab a cute profile picture from somewhere and start looking for a victim.

“The bottom line is this – kids know more about computers than most adults,” she said. “As parents, we have to keep up with technology to protect them. Parents who don’t know about computers shouldn’t let their kids get on if you don’t know how to protect them.”

Any reports of inappropriate communications or relationships should be forwarded to a local law enforcement agency, Jeter said.