This is the topic I loathe to discuss, one of those things you wish you could forget once you research it. Knowing what I know however, may prove useful to keep the middle school students of Valhalla safe, and that makes me feel much better.
What is a Cyber Predator?
Technically speaking, a Cyber Predator is someone who uses digital media to establish and manipulate a relationship with his victim. Most commonly, this is sexual in nature, but can also involve manipulation for money or other things.
Cyber Predators are well versed in establishing a relationship with their victims and have no qualms about taking months to "groom" their victims.
I use these vignettes in my classes:
Julie's Journey <http://www.netsmartz.org/RealLifeStories/JuliesJourney>
Amy's Choice <http://www.netsmartz.org/RealLifeStories/AmysChoice>
Survivor Diaries <http://www.netsmartz.org/RealLifeStories/SurvivorDiaries>
All of these young teens found themselves lured into meeting a predator IRL (in real life). No teen starts chatting with someone immediately thinking "I am going to meet this person." No, they start what seems to be casual associations via chat, Facebook, or IMi, just to name a few. Most teens think this is safe because they have no intention of meeting anyone.
That is where the grooming begins. *Grooming* is when a predator spends months (maybe more) getting your child to lower her guard and trust him. The predator's end game is to get whatever he wants. In some cases, it might be nude or suggestive pictures. In other cases, it can be rape,kidnapping and even death.
This excerpt from www.netsmartz.org details Grooming and the goals of a predator:
Predators take advantage of children’s natural vulnerabilities, such as their desire to appear adult or their need for attention. “Grooming” is the process through which predators play on these vulnerabilities by offering children gifts and attention.
It does not happen overnight. Grooming can be a long process that a patient, tenacious predator has planned and perfected to gain a child’s trust. This grooming may lead to the child’s willingness to meet the person with whom he or she is chatting. Offenders will often entice a child into a face-to-face meeting by
- Exploiting a child’s natural curiosity about sex
- Lowering the child’s inhibitions by gradually introducing explicit images and child sex abuse images
- Using his or her adult status to influence and control a child’s behavior
- Offering attention and affection
- Betraying a child’s trust by manipulating his or her emotions and insecurities
Guarding Against Predators
Children who experience online victimization may not share personal details with their parent or guardian right away, but there are warning signs that can help identify a child who has faced a situation of online victimization. Parents and guardians should keep in mind that not all children are being groomed by older predators; children may have sexual encounters with peers and older teens. However, any adult seeking a sexual encounter with a minor is considered a predator. If a child comes to you with a disclosure of exploitation, reassure him or her that talking to an adult is the right
action to take and divert any blame away from the victim.
Warning Signs of Grooming or Exploitation in your Child
- Spends an excessive amount of time on the computer
- Becomes angry when he or she cannot get on the computer
- Withdraws from family and friends
- Minimizes the screen or turns off the monitor when you come into the room
- Inappropriate images or websites on the computer
- Strange phone numbers on your telephone bill
- Gifts in the mail from someone you don’t know, such as webcams or cell phones