Report on Internet Porn

Children vulnerable to Internet luring, pornography

Larry Johnsrude,

Edmonton Journal

Published: Wednesday, April 19, 2006

With the creation of the Internet, children have access to information and educational tools their parents’ generation would have never dreamed possible.

But it has also made them vulnerable to the darker side of the Web.

In recent years, there has been an explosion of on-line child pornography, which is essentially sexual abuse of children as young as infants recorded on jpeg photos, video recordings and live webcam broadcasts.

There have also been a growing number of cases of sexual predators using the Internet to establish relationships with lonely children and adolescents, usually under the guise of being the same age and sharing common interests, and then luring them into sexual trysts.

The Edmonton Police Service’s Internet Child Exploitation — ICE — unit investigates Internet luring and child pornography. Staff Sgt. Howard Kunce of the ICE unit spoke with Larry Johnsrude. Here is an excerpt from their conversation.

Q: What can parents do to protect their children?

A: There are a lot of simple rules that a parent can do and by following these rules it will by no means eliminate their child as being a target or 100 per cent make them safe, but it will certainly minimize the chances of them being a target. So Number One, and I guess these aren’t really in any particular order, but Number One, you’ve got to talk to your kids. Communicate to them, make them aware of what the potential dangers are out there. A lot of kids that are 12, 13, 14 don’t recognize what repercussions there could be, what dangers could be. They don’t think past next Saturday, they just don’t think that far ahead. So parents have got to communicate that this could happen. And if for example you set up a profile on MSN or XOB or Yahoo and you give out your name and your home address, or maybe not even your home address, maybe your school name, somebody that’s out looking for young girls has got a whole bunch of information. They’ve got your name and they’ve got your school, and they can then do a little bit of homework and find out a whole bunch about you. And so you’re putting yourself at risk, you’re putting your family at risk, you’re putting your friends at risk, everybody, by doing that. And so parents have got to communicate those dangers to the kids.

Number Two, I mean a parent’s really got to think. The age of their kid, is there a need for an eight-year-old for example to have Internet access? Computer access sure. But Internet access? A 10-year-old, same thing. At what point in time does a child actually need to be on the internet? And so arbitrarily giving a child access to the Internet at an early age is not really well thought out. There’s just no need. So parent’s got to kind of monitor the use of the Internet. And you do that with software programs, you can do that with a router, you can do that through Windows XB for example. So having said that, if a parent’s going to set up and have computer and Internet access at home, a parent has got to be relatively conversant with that machinery themselves. So you can’t just go buy it at Future Shop or buy it at some store and have the guy come and install it and you don’t know anything about it but your kid’s going to use it. No, you’ve got to be aware what’s out there and how to use it, and what the limitations are and what the dangers are. So a parent’s got to do some homework. You’ve got to communicate with your kids and you’ve got to be conversant with what’s out there. So for example a lot of parents will phone in and complain about MSM or Nexopia, and a lot of them have never been on those sites themselves and have no idea, just going by what they’ve heard on the media. And so they’re saying my child’s at risk because she’s on Nexopia, what do I do? Well, have you actually gone and looked at your kid’s profile, looked at Nexopia? No. Well that’s one of the first things I’d suggest to them. So if your child is at risk it may not necessarily be from the medium, Nexopia or MSN, it may be from the fact that your child has logged on, set up a profile that puts herself at risk. The majority of kids out there use Nexopia, use MSN, use Yahoo, use whatever, responsibly. They have fun, it’s a great meeting place, they communicate, no problems at all. But it’s the one kids that provide too much information or don’t think about what they’re providing that put themselves at risk.

Q: So there’s no way a parent can tell if his child is talking to another child or to a pedophile?

A: That’s right, you don’t know. I can log on right now and talk to anybody I want and I can tell them that I’m 70, I can tell them that I’m 15, how are they gong to know? I can tell them I’m a girl. People just don’t know. And sometimes the complaints I have, I think I’m talking to a 17-year-old boy, well I’m talking to a 20-year-old girl. Or I think I’m talking to a 20-year-old girl, I’m talking to a 13-year-old boy. Or I think I’m talking to a 13-year-old boy, I’m talking to a 65-year-old man. You don’t know. People lie, and there’s no way you can verify it. So just as we as undercover operators can pretend to be 13-year-olds, the pedophiles can pretend to be 13-year-olds too, and they do their homework too. They talk just like a 13-year-old, they type just like a 13-year-old would. Getting back to what parents can do, communicate with their kids, they’ve got to be relatively conversant on the computer themselves, understand the programs, understand the risks. They’ve got to know what their kids are into. So in other words if their kids are using Yahoo, MSN, using Nexopia, they should be aware of what their kids’ passwords are, what their kids’ profiles are. They should look at them just so they get a good feel for it. I mean heck, a parent can check the history on the Internet to see where their kid’s been surfing, and a parent should be doing that. A parent can set up MSN or Yahoo so that it archives all logs so at any given time a parent can go in there and say OK, my little Johnny or my little Susie was talking to Joey on this date, what did they talk about? A parent can go back and check. And really, if the kids are using it responsibly, they should have no problem with that. Now there’s privacy issues, but you’ve got to weigh the privacy issues with the safety issues. And I’m not saying that a parent should necessarily review every chat, but they should have a good flavour for what’s going on and know what their kids are talking about. So those are a couple of things.

Now a big one is the location of the computer, and I would say in a huge majority of the files we investigate one of the first things we notice is the computer is generally in the basement in an isolated bedroom, which means that nobody’s monitoring it. So I recommend to parents all the time, take that computer, put it in the kitchen. I don’t care if it’s an eyesore, doesn’t matter. Put it in the kitchen, that way whenever you’re walking by to get coffee, to get some juice, do the dishes, whatever, you can see what’s going on on that computer. And finally, what we’re finding is that webcams are causing a problem. It allows for kids to be a little exhibitionist in nature, not so much the eight and 10 and 12 year olds but the 13, 14,15 year olds. And so you’ve really got to rethink why you need a webcam, or certainly monitor it like crazy. So those in essence are the basic things you can do. So make sure your computer’s in a common area, make sure you talk to your kids, know who your kid is online, their names, their nicknames, their passwords, and just be aware of what’s available out there. And if you have an open dialogue with your kids and if your kid does get approached by somebody she thinks is a perv, your kid can inform you and you can inform the police. So in a nutshell those are the safety issues.

If you just do a Google for internet safety you’ll get a million piece of material out there for parents. But they’re all saying basically the same things I told you. Probably the only things that we didn’t go into were warning signs for parents, and parents when I do lectures and presentations and tell them this stuff, the parents go oh my God. One would be the computer’s in the basement, Mom walks by and as Mom walks by the kid suddenly changes the screen or shuts off the screen or closes the door. Those are warning signs, if that happens there’s something going on. We talked about being able to check the history or being able to check archives. If you tell your kid I want to be able to see these histories, I want to be able to see these archives, and the kid says yeah Mom, that’s OK, and you go in next Saturday and the archive are gone, or the history’s been erased, hey something’s going on. Because you can tell your kid to clean their room and they won’t do. Now they’re cleaning the computer? No, there’s no way. If the parents see these warnings then they’ve got to be aware of the fact that something’s going on and they’ve got to take action.

Q: What makes some children more vulnerable to luring than others?

A: Again, that’s more of a psychologist to answer. There are so many things that could make a child more vulnerable on one particular day than another. If you think about it, the life for a 12, 13 or14 year old is a lot more complicated and complex today than it was, say, 30 years ago. There’s a lot more issues to deal with. There’s peer pressure, there’s bullying, school, parents, family, there at the age where it’s boys or girls, whatever they’re experiencing. There’s a lot of things going on and if five of those things are going down at any one time, they may be more vulnerable. If their life is good they may be less vulnerable. So it’s really difficult. The problem is they’re using a medium which allows them to meet a lot more people. Again it goes back to the fact that 20 years ago a 12-year-old as a victim really was isolated and wasn’t an open target for anybody. But nowadays with the Internet, she’s available to not only a predator in Edmonton but a predator in Calgary and Toronto and Detroit, in Russia. It’s just everywhere. So what makes them more vulnerable? I don’t know for sure. Psychologists may come up with all kinds of theories.

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