Predators go where victims are
Susan Gast - For the Journal-Constitution
Sunday, September 16, 2001
Don't let your child give out personal information on the Internet. Be
careful who you talk to online.
Most parents have heard, memorized and repeated these warnings to
protect their children. But what kind of information do predators seek
from children? How do they operate?
Reuben Rodriguez, director of the Exploited Children Unit at the
National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, knows.
Rodriguez oversees the center's CyberTipline (www.cybertipline.com
or 1-800-843-5678), where exploitation of children can be reported. Since
March 1998, the tip line has received 48,000 calls. Here, Rodriguez
discusses predators and what parents can do.
q: What strategies do predators use to connect with children on
a: Most predators have a specific preference of the type of child they
want as a victim, Rodriguez said. Age, gender, race, interests --- they
know who they want to locate. So they go to sites on the Internet where
these children would congregate. For example, Rodriguez said, they may go
to a chat room for fans of 'N Sync if they are looking for a young girl.
The predators study the interests of their target group. "In most
cases, they know more than the kids do about the subject," Rodriguez
"The predator inserts himself into conversations about that
subject," Rodriguez said. Eventually, he turns the conversation from
the original subject to the child --- pretending to understand his or her
problems, worries, experiences. "He may say, 'I understand, my
parents are the same way.'
"This is the grooming process, the seduction process. They may
spend days, weeks or months grooming the child, with the ultimate goal
being a meeting."
As time passes, the subjects become more intimate. The child opens up
and talks to the predator, because he is "a person who understands
them," Rodriguez said. "Then, later, he will tell them, 'I'm not
really 14 like I told you; I'm a little bit older.' Well, a young girl may
be flattered, thinking 'Here I am, a 13-year-old girl, and he's a
27-year-old, and he cares what I am thinking.' But this 27-year-old is
actually a 52-year-old.
"He then will tell her he is coming to Atlanta and asks if she
would meet him. He says he can't drive there but will have his uncle pick
her up. Well, guess who the uncle is?"
q: What online strategies are used by predators involved in child
a: Predators use strategies similar to those mentioned above, Rodriguez
said, but they also start desensitizing the child by sending them photos.
The first ones may be just slightly risqué, with following ones growing
more and more so.
"As an example, you and I are developing a relationship, and I
send you this picture and say, 'Look at what this guy sent me.' And it may
just be a child scantily dressed," Rodriguez said. "A few days
later, he would send one that is more risqué, then more and more. But the
child in the picture is always smiling. So the child thinks, 'Well, they
are smiling or laughing, so they are enjoying themselves.' Then the photos
graduate from just poses to photos of more actual victimization.
"The predator is gradually lowering the barriers of the child and
then may start talking dirty to the child," Rodriguez continued.
"Now, if you're the child, you're not concerned. You've shared
intimate things, talked naughty, he's your friend."
q: How can parents protect their children?
a: "There are filter programs, time restrictions, access
restrictions. And there are the normal precautions --- don't give out
personal information, don't send pictures unless you know who you are
sending them to, don't set up a meeting, and the others you hear.
"But there's no such thing as a magic bullet. You use these in
concert with other things. Parents should get to know the computer, learn
what chat rooms are.
"Most parents are just happy that kids are smart enough to use
computers. They don't understand that when you give a child a computer,
you are opening your house up to the world. It is not a toy. It is a
responsibility. You don't give a child keys to a car and say go drive. You
teach them the rules and how to do it safely. The same thing should be
done with a computer."
Rodriguez has no comprehensive numbers to show how widespread online
exploitation of children has become. "The problem is a large majority
of cases go unreported," Rodriguez said. He gives two reasons.
One is that children are fearful that their
parents will blame them for the contact they receive from predators and
will take away their privileges on the computer or punish them.
"Parents should understand that it really isn't the child's
fault," Rodriguez said. "These predators are very aggressive.
They stalk these children.
"Children might go to that naughty site someone told them about
at school. But parents should be there to educate and help the child and
develop a relationship in which the child feels he can come and tell you
when something is wrong."
A second reason that predators go unreported is that children may think
of them as their friend, and they don't want to report their friend.
Reporting exploitation through the center's tip line lets the center's
experts take the facts to law enforcement officials, who can investigate
them, Rodriguez said. He said he and his employees also help to train
police on how to investigate such crimes.
PERSONAL TECHNOLOGY SUNDAY • September 16, 2001
© 2001 Cox Interactive Media