The Threat is Real
Earlier this month, many of us read the story about how two determined parents posed as their daughter, Sarah, on social networking site Facebook to track down Internet predator, Thomas Gibbs, 52, who was attempting to arrange an offline hookup with the 11 year-old. Gibbs, who is married with two kids of his own, was posing as a teenage boy called Tommy, and was using a process called “grooming” to target the girl.
As predators “groom” they will prey on a tween or teen’s desire for romance, adventure, or sexual information. They will affirm the feelings and choices of a child, flatter and compliment the child excessively, develop an online relationship that is romantic, controlling and upon which the child will become dependent. At more advanced stages, predators ease inhibitions by gradually introducing sex into conversations or exposing them to pornography. Predators will also send gifts or make threats to blackmail a victim into silence.
Sarah was fortunate that her parents got involved. As author Sue Scheff pointed out in a recent blog, this should serve as a wake up call for complacent parents. As we say at Enough Is Enough, parents must be the first line of defense to protect children from Internet-initiated exploitation.
Parents and other caring adults should be aware of the following warning signs that may indicate that their child is in contact with an online predator. It is time to have a discussion with your child if he or she:
- Becomes secretive about online activities
- Becomes obsessive about being online
- Gets angry when he or she can’t get online
- Receives phone calls, texts, gifts, email messages, or wall posts from people you do not know and whom your does not know offline
- Withdraws from family and friends
- Changes screens or turns off the computer when an adult enters a room
- Begins downloading pornography online