There is very little debate that the rapid rise of internet use in this country has left us all a little exposed. More online hacks, scams, and bugs mean less protection, more risk of harm, and less ability to detect it every time we go online.
Today’s children spend astronomical amounts of unmonitored time online downloading programs, going in chatrooms, and perusing websites – all in a world that parents may know very little about.
Kimberly Ann McCabe, who is the director of the Center for Community Development and Social Justice and an expert in cybercrime, believes the victimization of children online is a crucial issue. In her new book, Protecting Your Children Online: What You Need To Know About Online Threats To Your Children, McCabe addresses the many types of cybercrime and gives parents the necessary information, laws, and resources they need to protect their children.
Today’s parents are often caught off-guard by the unique and unprecedented safety challenges of the internet. According to McCabe, the number of children who are victimized by internet crimes rises each year. And while traditional crimes are most often perpetrated by a predator that can be identified, those who victimize children online are often much harder to identify. Children can be enticed into online communities that recruit them to perpetuate their messages – even hateful ones.
“In these instances, groups affiliated with a variety of organizations attempt to persuade children and teens to continue their actions of discrimination, actions or acts of bias and hate against targeted groups of individuals,” writes McCabe.
Children can also be recruited for trafficking purposes, which McCabe notes isn’t exclusive to developing countries.
“We must acknowledge that child trafficking does occur in the United States and that many of the victims of trafficking are US citizens,” writes McCabe.
And yet many parents do not talk to their kids about the potential for victimization online, or how to be safe on the internet, and McCabe says this absence of communication “only provides perpetrators an advantage in the exploitation and abuse of your child.”
The result is that perpetrators often spend hours grooming children, garnering their affection, and ultimately overcoming their resistance to abuse.
More recently, however, children are initiating contact with their abuser.
“Recent research on Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) suggests that in at least 50 percent of the cases of child sexual abuse, the child (or teen) initiated the contact with their abuser and was concerned about the age of their perpetrator,” writes McCabe.
Boundaries between perpetrator and victims are often blurred, and McCabe notes that teens involved in either the viewing or creation of child pornography often display behavioral indicators similar to victims of child abuse.
“Specifically, children involved in the production of child pornography may appear withdrawn, depressed, and are often dishonest about their computer usage. In addition, the child or teen involved in the viewing of child pornography may notice the bodies of others and show a tolerance for previously ignored sexually graphic movies,” writes McCabe.
Sexting has also become a viewed as a “normal” behavior for teens, and one that is often the outgrowth of a desire to “fit in.” While sexting is a crime, and one that may fall under Federal Law, McCabe notes that “it is rare that a teen (or anyone under the age of eighteen) perpetrator will be prosecuted for sexting or sextortion.”
Protecting children begins with an ongoing conversation parents have with their children about online safety, sexting, cyberbullying, cyberstalking, hate crimes, and the online footprint they leave.
“As parents, one of the best ways to protect our children from ICACs that attempt to recruit them into actions of violence against others is to model the behaviors that we feel appropriate for a civilized society of respect,” writes McCabe.
For any parent today, online safety should be a very real and critical concern. Protecting Your Children Online is an invaluable resource that outlines the many ways children can be victimized online, the laws that apply, and the actions parents can take to better detect, prevent, and address internet crimes against children.
Protecting Your Children Online: What You Need To Know About Online Threats To Your Children
Kimberly Ann McCabe
Rowman & Littlefield
Hardcover, 204 Pages