Online Sexual Exploitation Prevention
The Internet is probably the hottest thing since the invention of the television. While it offers us vast resources of information, it is also a thorn in our side.
The Internet offers us an exciting new way to explore our world, conduct research, shop and even bank online. However, because it is so vast and composed of so many independent companies and providers, it is also virtually impossible to control.
What is "The Net"
If you're new to the Internet, you might find this information useful. On the other hand, die-hard surfers should already be fairly well educated. To better understand the Internet, we first need to examine just exactly what it is.
The Internet is pretty much nothing more than a whole bunch of computers all linked together by telephone lines and satellites. It was originally started by the Department of Defense as a network for military personnel offices. It was later opened to the public and has grown from its beginnings as "text only" to the full-blown graphics we see today on the World Wide Web.
The Internet is more than just the World Wide Web, though. It consists of electronic mail servers, news servers, FTP (file transfer protocol) sites and the IRC (internet chat relay). Each of these is explained a little more in depth below:
- World Wide Web - This is the graphics portion of the Internet. Most people think of the web as a collection of home pages, both personal and commercial.
- FTP (File Transfer Protocol) - These are sites which hold thousands of files which can be downloaded by users. These files can be pretty much anything from pictures to applications and games.
- IRC (Internet Chat Relay) - The IRC is a collection of servers which allow users to connect in groups or as individuals in chat rooms. These chat rooms allow users to talk in real time and even transfer files to each other.
- Newsgroups - Newsgroups are collections of messages posted by users concerning various topics. There are currently over 20,000 different newsgroups offering discussions of just about any topic you can imagine. While most of these groups are centered around legitimate topics, there are also hundreds of groups which have freely accessible pornography or pirated software.
- Peer-to-Peer File Sharing - If you've never heard of Kazaa, Morpheus, BearShare, Gnutella or Limewire then you really should talk to your computer savvy kids or read the news a little more. Basically, these are programs that allow users to share music files commonly known as MP3's. These programs are a tremendous hit especially with teenagers because they allow them to trade songs "ripped" from music CD's. However, music files are not the only traded files. Just recently Congress issued a warning concerning the use of these programs to share pornographic pictures and movies. And there are no blocks or protections to prevent access.
Sex On The Net
The Internet has become a haven for pornography, sexual deviation, and sexual predators. An online search for just the word "sex" on "Google" alone returns 45,700,000 hits! And that's just for webpages. Newsgroups, FTP Sites, the IRC (Internet Chat Relay) and Peer-to-Peer File Sharing make up thousands of more sources of pornographic materials, most of which are easily accessible to your child.
While most commercial pornographic websites are password protected and require a credit card for access, there are still thousands of "free" sites that are virtually unregulated. In fact, the problem has grown so large that federal and state law enforcement agencies are expending over 90 percent of their online investigative resources just on investigating online sex crimes. And they're still fighting a loosing battle.
However, there are ways you can protect your child while online. Various software companies offer free programs which prohibit users from accessing pornographic or sex related sites. Below we'll examine some of the best ways to protect your child.
Learn The Internet
The first thing is to learn the Internet yourself. Take some time to explore the web and see what's out there. Check out entertainment and gaming sites to make sure they meet your approval. Learn about the various newsgroups and delete those with obvious sexual content from your newsgroup listing. You may even want to have your internet service provider block access to their newsgroup server since many newsgroup topics can be deceiving.
Install Special Software
There are several programs available for free download from the Internet which restrict access to known pornographic sites. CYBERSitter and NetNanny are probably the two best known. However, these programs do not guarantee protection. New sites are appearing all the time and may not be listed in the software's registry.
Probably the best way to protect your child is to supervise their online activities. Avoid the IRC and newsgroups if at all possible. If your child desires to chat, select chat rooms from children's web sites that are monitored.
Monitor who your child chats with and who they send email to. Many sexual predators use newsgroups, the IRC and email to seek out victims. While contact may initially seem casual, it usually leads to online solicitation.
What Do I Look For?
- Watch for internet users who want to exchange pictures via email or who ask your child to post pictures in newsgroups. Look for email messages with file attachments of pornographic pictures.
- Look for obvious changes in your child's behavior. Watch for increases in your child's curiosity about sex.
- Look for an "addiction to the Internet". Watch the amount of time your child spends online. Look for a loss of interest in other hobbies.
- Check the history file of your Internet browser to track where your child has been. Look for sites with obvious sexual names.
What If I Suspect My Child Is Being Solicited?
- Notify your local law enforcement agency. While smaller agencies may not have the resources to investigate online sex offenses, they can direct you to either state or federal agencies who do.
- Cut off contact with the offender.
- If necessary, seek counseling for your child.
Things To Remember
There is no guaranteed way to ensure that your child does not come into contact with pornographic material while on the Internet. There's just simply too much of it out there. However, you can teach your child about the dangers of online sexual solicitation and how to avoid it. And most of all, surf with your child to ensure that their online experience is educational and safe.
To learn about ways to protect your child within your community, click here.
For more information, please contact:
Leesburg Police Department
Criminal Investigations Division
115 E. Magnolia St
Leesburg, FL 34748
(352) 728-9862 (office)
(352) 728-6343 (fax)