POLICE ASSOCIATION OF NOVA SCOTIA 103 Child: Okay. Where? Predator: In front of the computer game store. Oh! My uncle’s name is George. He’s really kewl. Child: Great... thanks, I really appreciate it. You’re so lucky to have a rich and kewl uncle. Saturday arrives, and the child goes to the mall and meets an adult outside the computer game store. He identifies himself as “Uncle George” and explains that his nephew is already at the McDonald’s waiting for them. The child is uncomfortable, but the uncle walks into the store and buys the $100 game. He comes out and hands it to the child, who is immediately neutralized and delighted. Stranger-danger warnings are not applicable. This isn’t a stranger - he’s “Uncle George,” and if any proof was needed, the computer game is it. He gets into Uncle George’s car without hesitation to meet his friend at McDonald’s. The rest is reported on the 6 o’clock news. It’s disgusting. It makes us sick to our stomachs, but it happens. Not very often, but often enough that you need to be forewarned. (Several thousand cyberpredator cases are opened each year by law enforcement agents in the United States alone. And there have been several high profile cases right here in New Brunswick.) But no matter how often it happens, even once is too often. Knowing how they operate and the tricks of the trade will help us teach our child how to avoid being victimized. Each case differs, but the predators tend to use the same general tactics. Aside from the “bait and switch” scam discussed above, they often attempt to seduce a child. They want the child to “want” them. The Script - How They Operate Online They begin by striking up a conversation with the child, trying to create a relationship of trust and friendship. They often masquerade as another child or teenager, typically of the opposite sex, unless the child has indicated homosexual interests. (The child may or may not know the “seducer’s” real age by the time they meet face-to-face.) Phone calls usually start at this point. Sometimes gifts are sent to the child as well, which may include a Polaroid camera and film. Once they have broken down barriers of caution, they begin introducing sexual topics gradually, often with the use of child pornography to give the child the impression that other children are regularly involved in sexual activities. Then they begin to approach the child’s own sexuality and curiosity, by asking questions and giving them “assignments,” like wearing special underwear, sending sexually suggestive photos of themselves to the pedophile, or performing certain sexual acts. These assignments eventually broaden to the exchange of sexually explicit photographs (using the Polaroid, cell phone camera or digital camera) or videos of the child. Finally, the pedophile attempts to arrange a face-to-face meeting. (He may also have divulged his true age or an age closer to his actual age at this point.) Why It Works All the lectures we have given our children from the time they are very young about not talking to strangers aren’t applicable online, where everyone is a stranger. A large part of the fun online is talking to people you’ve never met. In addition, our children’s stranger-danger defenses are not triggered when other kids are involved. The warnings apply only to adult strangers, not to other children. If any of us walked up to a child in a playground and tried to strike up a conversation, they would ignore us and probably run away. But if an unknown eleven-yearold came up to another eleven-year-old in the same playground, they’d be playing in ten seconds flat! That’s how the pedophiles get in under our kids’ strangerdanger radar - they pretend to be other kids. And children often believe what they read and hear. They “know” things about the predator because they believe what he told them. They also believe what they read about him in his “staged” profile, which supports what he told them. So it’s not just true, it’s confirmed. There are many stages at which the pedophile can be thwarted by an observant parent. In addition, children with healthy friendships and a strong, open, and trusting relationship with their parents are less likely to fall victim to pedophiles online. Pedophiles typically prey on a child’s loneliness. They feed the child’s complaints about her home life - creating an "us-versus-them" atmosphere. “Your mom is so mean to you! I don’t know why she won’t let you _____.” (Fill in the blank with whatever we try and limit: makeup, malls, concerts, etc.) This atmosphere does two things: It creates a distance between the child and her parents, at the same time bringing the child into a special secret alliance with the pedophile. (You should know that boys are almost as often the victims of Internet sexual exploitation as girls are, but they report it less frequently.) I have followed many cases over the last few years. In my role as WiredSafety executive director, I’ve also been responsible for reporting several of these to law enforcement and for helping many families through the pain of prosecution. Sometimes we just help the families survive what the molestation has done to them. (The child isn’t the only victim - entire families are torn apart in the aftermath of a molestation.) Parents feel guilty for not having protected their child, siblings don’t know how to treat their fellow sibling - the pain can continue for a lifetime, and even more. And, in addition to being hurt physically, the young victim's heart is broken by the betrayal of trust. Anatomy of a Real and Early Case One case I reviewed many years ago involved a New Jersey teenager and an Ohio adult predator. It was one of the earliest reported cases of cyber-predatorial conduct, discovered in 1996. Luckily, the liaison was discovered before the girl met the man face-to-face. But (...cont’d) (cont’d...)