Pedophilia on the Internet
JoLynn Plato, Blessed Sacrament School, Springfield, IL
Children are the world's most precious commodity. In the United States there are many entities that hold the responsibility of raising a child. The family is the central nurturer, followed closely by the community, and lastly by the schools. Each of these groups has a growing concern over an exponentially exploding concept: the freedom of the Internet and the pedophiles who are found lurking there.
On February 15, 1999, NBC Nightly News reported that over seven million children under the age of twelve use the Internet in this country. The following night they shared a closely related statistic: over 10,000 pedophile web sites exist on the Internet. The etymology of the word "pedophile" is innocent enough. According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (1981), "pedo-" is a Greek prefix indicating "child;" "-phile" is derived from Latin, Greek, and French and means "having a strong love or affinity or preference for." The connotation of the term "pedophile" in the United States has become synonymous with the term child molester. Basically, a pedophile takes his/her love for children too far in the area of sexual exploitation of the young.
Pedophiles have found a new way to lure children. They enter freely into homes. They "chat" with children. A pedophile ensnares the most vulnerable young citizens into believing that s/he is the only one who truly understands the plight of the misunderstood, mistreated, sexually confused children of the world. They hide behind obscure screen names. They lie behind false genders and ages.
Take, for example, the following story relayed via e-mail. This is not uncommon work for undercover police officers who are trying to keep children safe.
Shannon could hear the footsteps behind her as she walked toward home. The thought of being followed made her heart beat faster.
"You're being silly," she told herself, "no one is following you."
To be safe, she began to walk faster, but the
footsteps kept up with her pace. She was afraid to look back and she was glad
she was almost home.
Shannon said a quick prayer, "God please get me home safe." She saw the porch light burning and ran the rest of the way to her house.
Once inside, she leaned against the door for a moment, relieved to be in the safety of her home. She glanced out the window to see if anyone was there. The sidewalk was empty. After tossing her books on the sofa, she decided to grab a snack and get on-line.
She logged on under her screen name, ByAngel213.
She checked her Buddy List and saw GoTo123 was on. She sent him
an instant message:
ByAngel213: Hi I'm glad you are on! I thought someone was following
me home today. It was really weird!
GoTo123: LOL You watch too much TV. Why would
following you? Don't you live in a safe neighborhood?
ByAngel213: Of course I do. LOL I guess it was my imagination cuz' didn't see anybody when I looked out.
GoTo123: Unless you gave your name out on-line. You haven't done that have you?
ByAngel213: Of course not. I'm not stupid you know.
GoTo123: Did you have a softball game after
ByAngel213: Yes and we won!!
GoTo123: That's great! Who did you
ByAngel213: We played the Hornets. LOL. Their uniforms are so gross! They look like bees. LOL
GoTo123: What is your team called?
ByAngel213: We are the Canton Cats. We have tiger paws on our uniforms. They are really cool.
GoTo123: Did you pitch?
ByAngel213: No I play second base. I got to go. My homework has to be done before my parents get home. I don't want them mad at me. Bye!
GoTo123: Catch you later. Bye
GoTo123 went to the member menu and began to search for her profile. When it came up, he highlighted it and printed it out. He took out a pen and began to write down what he knew about Angel so far.
Her name: Shannon
Birthday: Jan. 3, 1985
State where she lived: North Carolina
Hobbies: softball, chorus, skating and going to the mall.
Besides this information, he knew she lived in Canton because she had just told him. He knew she stayed by herself until 6:30 p.m. every afternoon until her parents came home from work. He knew she played softball on Thursday afternoons on the school team, and the team was named the Canton Cats. Her favorite number 7 was printed on her jersey. He knew she was in the seventh grade at the Canton Junior High School. She had told him all this in the conversations they had on-line. He had enough information to find her now.
Shannon didn't tell her parents about the
incident on the way home from the ball park that day. She didn't want them to
make a scene and stop her from walking home from the softball games. Parents
were always overreacting and hers were the worst. It made her wish she was not
an only child. Maybe if she had brothers and sisters, her parents wouldn't be so
By Thursday, Shannon had forgotten about the footsteps following her. Her game was in full swing when suddenly she felt someone staring at her. It was then that the memory came back.
She glanced up from her second base position to
see a man watching her closely. He was leaning against the fence behind
first base and he smiled when she looked at him. He didn't look scary and
she quickly dismissed the fear she had felt.
After the game, he sat on a bleacher while she talked to the coach. She noticed his smile once again as she walked past him. He nodded and she smiled back. He noticed her name on the back of her shirt. He knew he had found her.
Quietly, he walked a safe distance behind her.
It was only a few blocks to Shannon's home, and once he saw where she lived he
quickly returned to the park to get his car. Now he had to wait. He
decided to get a bite to eat until the time came to go to Shannon's house. He
drove to a fast food restaurant and sat there until time to make his
Shannon was in her room later that evening when she heard voices in the living room.
"Shannon, come here," her father called.
He sounded upset and she couldn't imagine why. She went into the room to see the man from the ballpark sitting on the sofa.
"Sit down," her father began, "this man has just told us a most interesting story about you."
Shannon moved cautiously to a chair across from
the man. How could he tell her parents anything? She had never seen him
"Do you know who I am Shannon?" The man asked.
"No," Shannon answered.
"I am a police officer and your online friend, GoTo123."
Shannon was stunned. "That's impossible! GoTo is a kid my age! He's 14, and he lives in Michigan!"
The man smiled. "I know I told you all
that, but it wasn't true. You see Shannon there are people on-line who
pretend to be kids; I was one of them. But while others do it to find kids and
hurt them, I belong to a group of parents who do it to protect kids from
predators. I came here to find you to teach you how dangerous it is to give out
too much information to people on-line. You told me enough about yourself to
make it easy for me to find you. Your name, the school you went to, the name of
your ball team and the position you played. The number and name on your jersey
just made finding you a breeze."
Shannon was stunned. "You mean you don't live in Michigan?"
He laughed. "No, I live in Raleigh. It made you feel safe to think I was so far away, didn't it?"
"I had a friend whose daughter was like you. Only she wasn't as lucky. The guy found her and murdered her while she was home alone. Kids are taught not to tell anyone when they are alone, yet they do it all the time on-line. The wrong people trick you into giving out information a little here and there on-line. Before you know it, you have told them enough for them to find you without even realizing you have done it. I hope you've learned a lesson from this and won't do it again."
"I won't," Shannon promised solemnly.
"Will you tell others about this so they will be safe too?"
"It's a promise!"
Cyber citizens have realized the need to protect children on the Web. It is becoming as basic as teaching them "stranger danger." Many organizations have been formed to advise parents on how to teach their children to avoid the traps of Internet pedophilia. There are ways to report pedophiles and their misdeeds. (Please refer to Annotated Web Sites for more specific information.) There are web sites designed by adults who had been victimized in childhood who wish to share the danger signs with the world. Many of these people see the Internet not only as a vast place to gain information and perspectives, but also as a huge unchecked playground full of child molesters and abductors. These organizations and individuals give a great amount of guidance to parents and teachers who wish to protect children as best they can from the dangers lurking through their phone lines.
There are always two sides to an issue. United States laws make it illegal for an adult to have sexual relations with a minor. There are those that argue that consensual relations should be pardoned from these laws. There are others that believe children should have the same rights as adults to explore their sexuality at any age. It was difficult to find credible sites supporting such issues. Many Internet service providers have been forced to disallow individuals holding such opposing viewpoints to have space in newsgroups, listservs, or servers.
Ways to Deal with and Minimize Pedophilia on the Internet
Many of the sites listed below give terrific tips on how to avoid problems with pedophilia via the Internet. Two main areas seem to surface throughout the research: parent involvement and parent/child education.
Much of the "danger times" for children to run into pedophiles are the hours right after school until their parents get home from work. Children are more susceptible to getting into sites or chat rooms they should not be in when they know the parents will not "catch" them. Kids who are having problems at home or school are instant prey for pedophiles, who place themselves in positions of wanting to be the comforting "friend" who understands what the child is going through. Parents who know the child may be going through a rough time should be more involved in the child’s Internet surfing than they may have been before. Filters are another way of assuring that children do not enter into questionable sites. Although the argument with filters is that they may filter too much, it is better for the children to not have access to something than to have free reign to it all. Keeping the home computer in a central location where parents can see what site the child pulls up is also a good suggestion. Educators in schools could also benefit from setting Internet stations so that the screens can be easily viewed by the teacher.
Parent/child communication is the key to avoiding major problems when it comes to pedophiles on the web. Parents can and should demand to know what their children are doing while online. E-mail, especially that of younger children, should be screened. It is a good idea, both in the case of pedophiles and viruses, to have a "no downloading" rule for the home computer. Parents should impart on their children the same "street smarts" they have when meeting a stranger in person. It is also a good idea to create screen names for children which avoid implying gender, age, or hobbies. Most of all, if the children know that their parents are interested in what is going on online, they are more likely to avoid sites they know are disapproved by their parents. Pedophiles look for children who seem new online. They look for loners, children who feel they have no friends. Parents can make sure that they spend adequate amounts of time with their children. Limiting the amount of time spent online is a wise tactic for parents as well.
Parent/child education on this topic should be ongoing. Teachers and parents can benefit from visiting the links listed below. Schools may wish to create their own link dedicated to keeping parents informed about the dangers children may face on the Internet. There are also children's sites that give tips to children about avoiding the traps of pedophiles. As long as the Internet remains unchecked, parents need to be sure they are actively involved in what takes place in their homes. Take a few moments to see who your child is inviting into your house tonight.
Annotated Web Sites
This site boasts being the "Largest Online Internet Safety Program." A Parent's Guide to the Internet, Anatomy of a Pedophile, and Sophia's Safe Surfing Club are a few of the link options of this site. An all-around excellent site for concerned parents and teachers.
GOCIAP: Guarding Our Children's Innocence Against Pedophiles
This site was created by an individual who was molested when younger. It gives good descriptions of the traps used by pedophiles to lure children in and keep them quiet about what is happening. It contains some questionable language, but is very upfront as far as what parents need to know to keep their children safe.
Parents will be particularly interested in the Parenting link, which provides "information parents should know when considering how much access to the Internet to allow their children. Includes advice for schools with computers."
Links include: Kids' Rules for Online Safety, What Are the Risks?, Guidelines for Parents and Privacy Issues
Developed specifically for teens, links on this site include: Staying Safe Online, Protecting Your Privacy, Computers and the Internet, Links for Teens, Articles About Teen and Child Safety Online and Know The Rules (a public awareness campaign about general safety for teenage girls).
The Parent's Guide to the Information Superhighway: Rules and Tools for Families Online
This site gives general information regarding kids and the Internet. It includes a link to child safety on the Internet.
Contains several links to anti-pedophile organizations and sites.
Sites indicating the point of view of pedophiles:
Back to Educator's Guide to Computer Crime and Technology Misuse
Last edited 05/03/99