Cairo Association of Teachers - Newsletter

CAT Tracks for November 16, 2006

From the Southern Illinoisan...

FBI tells future teachers how to spot Internet sexual abuse

by andrea hahn, the southern

CARBONDALE - Even children who know better than to talk to strangers in person can, over the Internet, unintentionally give out enough personal information that a child predator can find out in less than one hour where they live and where they probably go to school.

Southern Illinois University Carbondale Professor Jan Waggoner said the future teachers she is educating are on the front line of defense when it comes to keeping children safe. Accordingly, she invited FBI Special Agent Jon Ford to address her "Teaching in Middle Level Schools" class with a presentation he normally gives to parents.

"This (SIUC) class is for teachers of that prime target age group for Internet predators," she said. "We want to make our teachers aware of the signs and symptoms (of Internet sexual exploitation and abuse). With that information, they will be better in tune with their students and better able to help protect them."

Waggoner said it is crucial for teachers to stay ahead of the technology curve. It is also important, she said, for future teachers to understand the pivotal role they may play in a child's life.

"We're trying to make them understand how important they are," she said.

"This is ground breaking," Ford told her after the presentation. "This is a really good idea, to give this information to future teachers who are about ready to go out there."

Ford's basic message is that, while the Internet offers obvious advantages and educational opportunities, it also opens a whole new vista for those whose sexual preference is children. According to FBI statistics, one in seven children has been solicited over the Internet for sex in the last year. Only 42 percent of children go to their parents when confronted even with aggressive solicitation.

"E-mail is too slow," Ford said about the way sexual predators solicit underage victims. "There is instant gratification in the chat rooms."

Ford demonstrated the steps a predator could take using information readily available in chat rooms, news portals and profile sites to find personal information even when only supplied initially with a first name and an Internet site.

"These people do their background work," he said. "They target individuals in the chat room sites. They look at the online profile, they look for background information. Within 10 minutes, they can get a phone number."

Ford said most Internet predators are white men in their late 20s or older. Most commonly, they are looking for children in the junior-high age group - children who have some facility with the Internet and some independence from their parents but who are still gullible enough to believe the person they are talking to online is exactly as presented.

The common approach is for the predator to engage the child in a chat room and to establish some common ground, Ford said. At some point, the predator will suggest the two go to a private chat room where their conversation won't immediately be available to others.

"They listen, they agree, they establish trust," Ford said. "If (children) don't feel they have trust with a parent, if they feel their teachers aren't listening to them, they'll get from this person what they aren't getting somewhere else."

The more savvy Internet predators can even remotely access Web cameras and microphones. They may use the information they get for their own immediate gratification or they may use it to get closer to the victim.

While some predators may be content with the virtual child, the goal for many is physical contact. Many Internet predators target children within 50 miles from their own location. However, the recent case of a Flora teacher who traveled to Indiana to meet an underage victim is still being adjudicated with a sentencing expected this week.

Ford said educating parents and children is an important step in preventing victimization. When parents and children learn together, the common experience can be a bonding tool, he said.

"Parents should educate themselves how to get around on the Internet," he said. "Ask your child for help. That can create a bond and some trust. Communicate with your child, and encourage your child to talk about uncomfortable situations they may find themselves in."

For more information, including warning signs that your child is in danger and tops about how to prevent such victimization, log on to where online programs are available for parents and for teachers.