Internet criminals are targeting younger children.
With computers and Internet available to a younger audience, cyberbullying and enticement are on the increase in Wisconsin.
Playing online games and frequenting chat rooms can expose the identity of children, warned Stacey Sadoff, who presented an Internet workshop March 8 in Manawa.
The workshop was for parents, guardians and anyone with an interest in protecting children from Internet crimes. It was sponsored by the Waupaca County Advisory Committee on Criminal Justice.
Sadoff is an operations program associate of the Wisconsin Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force. The ICAC Task Force operates under the Division of Criminal Investigation in the Wisconsin Department of Justice.
According to Sadoff, chat rooms and other social media are exposing children to pedophiles. Even if young people are careful not to give out any personal information, predators know which questions to ask and which children to target.
She noted that over 85 percent of third to sixth graders participate in online gaming, where personal information is requested.
By visiting schools, she has discovered that many 8 year olds have a Facebook page, even though the site requires users to be at least 13.
“A lot of people on social media (sites) are always revealing too much,” said Sadoff.
“When children are ‘friending’ people (on Facebook) that they don’t know and they are posting where they are going, it is a recipe for disaster,” Sadoff said. “They should never accept friend requests from unknowns.”
She said parents should monitor their children’s Facebook pages and other social media. She suggested that children have a “private” Facebook that only their close friends can view.
“All you see is their picture and nothing else,” Sadoff said.
She suggested that home and laptop computers be kept in a public area of the home so parents can monitor what their children are doing online.
If the monitor is immediately shut off when a parent enters the room, this is a sign children are doing something they should not be doing, she said.
Sadoff said parents should ask questions about what type of websites their children like to browse and what type of games they like to play online.
Parents should especially watch what type of pictures their children post on social media, Sadoff said.
“Pedophiles and predators tend to gravitate toward children who put up provocative photos,” she said. “They are probably going to talk to the children wearing less clothing (in posted photos).”
Young people taking these types of photos basically are telling predators they are curious about sex and more likely to chat provocatively, she explained. This is the first step in the grooming process a pedophile uses to get a child to trust him and eventually agree to meet him offline.
Children tend to be too trusting in the chat rooms, Sadoff said. “They assume everything is the truth; they don’t question it.”
During the meeting, Sadoff played a video of a child predator talking about how easy it was to meet and lure a child.
The predator said:
“Meeting a young girl online is very easy. Most of the girls are very insecure. Chatting seems unthreatening to them, so they like to talk.
“Meeting them is the goal. Once I get them out of their house, it starts to get real interesting.”
When Sadoff talks to school children, she asks what they would do if a stranger approached them in a park. Most say they will not go with a stranger or give them any personal information.
“I try to explain the connection – that they need to treat online the same as if they are in a public area,” she said.
Pedophiles will talk, listen, pay attention and constantly compliment a child. Eventually they send gifts – a cellphone, travel tickets – and encourage the child to meet them.
Another video was called “Survivor Diaries,” with young people talking about how they were enticed by predators:
“I finally had someone who put me first.”
“No matter who you think you’re talking to, there are bad people out there. Those people exist online and in the real world.”
“Cyberbullying is becoming a big problem,” Sadoff said.
She identified cyberbullying as “using technology to harass another person.”
Although most children can learn to report, block and ignore cyberbulling, there are some who cannot handle it. In these cases, the harassment can lead to suicide or other violent acts.
“Of 70 school shootings in the U.S., the Secret Service determined in two-thirds of them the shooter was cyberbullied at some point,” Sadoff said.
Signs of being cyberbullied are similar to the signs of early depression and include children being reluctant to go online or to school.
According to Sadoff, “160,000 children are afraid they will be bullied when they go to school.”
As an example, she used the case of a Kimberly area high school student who allegedly created a Twitter account and encouraged others to send in confessions and secrets.
Within a few days, there were over 400 submissions from students all over the Fox Cities area. The young people had not expected their secrets would ever be made public.
According to Sadoff, the Twitter page was taken down, and school police liaison officers could no longer track the source.
In January, Wisconsin had 55 cyber tips reported. In February, this number jumped to 81.
The cyber tip line is for reporting anyone online who:
• Sends photos or videos to a child containing obscene content.
• Speaks to a child in a sexual manner.
• Asks a child to meet them in person.
Cyber tips can be sent to www.cybertipline.com, or call 1-800-THE-LOST.
According to Sadoff, most cyber tips come from parents after their child confides in them.
Instagram is a growing problem in middle schools, according to Sadoff. “It seems like every middle school girl goes on Instagram,” she said.
She suggested that parents and guardians visit NetSmartz.com to learn more about the growing danger for children on the Internet.
One video on the website shows a girl trying to keep her personal information safe. Yet, the predator gets enough information by asking unassuming questions about school mascots, weather and time of day.
Chat rooms are constantly being monitored for these types of child predators.
“Our agents are always doing undercover chats,” Sadoff said.
“The minute you hand that cellphone to your child is the time to talk about limits and parental access to keep your child safe,” said Connie Abert, Waupaca County UW-Extension 4-H Youth Development educator.
She suggested that parents encourage children to go out and play instead of being on the computer.
According to Abert, things like drugs and smoking are affecting children at increasingly younger ages.
“So parents need to be talking to their children about these risky behaviors,” she said.
Schools are becoming more lenient as far as allowing high school students to have technology, said Anne Collins-Reed, social worker at the Waupaca Learning Center.
Smart phones are putting cameras in the hands of everyone, Abert noted. She said it is important to warn children they could be photographed at any time.
“People need to be encouraged to be active in protecting children – their own and their friends’ children,” Abert said.
“Bullying is hard to prove because it isn’t documented,” Collins-Reed said.