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Paynesville Press - November 29, 2006

Safeguarding children
on the Internet outlined

By Addi Larson

It is a startling statistic: about 70 percent of worldwide Internet use is pornography. Only 30 percent is non-sexual commerce.

Sergeant Chris Dobratz - of the Hutchinson Police Department and Minnesota Internet Crimes Against Children task force - used this statistic during his public presentation on Internet safety at the school auditorium last week.

Dobratz explained that dangers exist amidst online chat rooms, MySpace-type personal web pages, YouTube-type video broadcasting sites, e-mail and instant messages, and phone text messages. And in these contemporary digital communities, tangled webs of deception can be woven by lurking predators posing as females, prospective boyfriends, teenagers, or trusted confidants, when they are not.

A dragnet example given by Dobratz was of a 43-year-old male predator arrested in Minnesota after posing online as 13-year-old males and females. Another example given was of a 54-year-old male sexual pedophile arrested in Minnesota after posing as a 17-year-old female, trying to lure a 17-year-old male online.

Dobratz illustrated that online predators can start with provided information such as a first name, a relative's first name, a home telephone number, interests and hobbies, and a valid e-mail address. And after 20 minutes, explained Dobatz, that predator could be welcomed into the victim's home.

Sexual pedophiles are often well versed in the behaviors of teenagers by studying television and online. Teens will believe they are in contact with other teenagers, "because they don't have that face-to-face contact," Dobratz said.

Most Internet services, according to Dobratz, will allow information to be removed upon request, yet the challenge for parents is finding the information.

Dobratz said that 30 million youth in the U.S. use the Internet and one in four have had unwanted exposure to sexual solicitation. One in 53 receive aggressive solicitation such as a phone call, a request to meet in person, regular e-mails, or money and gifts. Of solicited youth, added Dobratz, 75 percent do not report the suspicious luring to their parents due to a fear that Internet privileges will be withheld.

Of those that do tell parents, only 10 percent go to a law enforcement agency, an Internet service provider, or a hotline for such cases.

Dobratz said that 70 percent of all Internet use is at home, 22 percent at another's home, four percent at school, and three percent at libraries.

Internet site-blocking software may not be the answer for families with savvy youth who have grown up around computers, said Dobratz. He gave an example of a student who needed to complete a report for a sex education class and could not access relevant Internet sites because his parents had blocked the word "sex." While his parents were away, the boy uninstalled the blocking software, wrote the report, and reinstalled the software before his parents returned home.

According to Dobratz, 99 percent of Internet predators are male; 86 percent are older than 25 years; and 97 percent act alone. Also, 39 percent of Internet victims become identified by law enforcement; and 25 percent of solicitations are received by undercover law enforcement.

Of sexual pedophiles, Dobatz said, "It's not uncommon for us to find people with thousands and thousands of images in their collection," explaining that pedophiles like a particular age, and the photo images do not grow up. Also, it is not uncommon for pedophiles to search for true stories on child pornography to validate their sickness, he added.

Dobratz offered several tips for Internet safety:

•Establish family rules for Internet use and post them by the computer so children can see them.

•Determine what sites your children may visit.

•Decide with whom your children may chat and instant message.

•Limit the time your children may be online. He believes that more than 10 hours a week is a problem.

•Keep the computer in a common room. Do not allow Internet access in children's bedrooms. Watch children's faces while they are online.

•Discuss the importance of telling parents or trusted adults when anything makes the child feel scared, uncomfortable, etc.

•Communicate and prepare. Talk before hand. Be open and honest.

•Be informed. Learn everything you can about the net. Learn chat room lingo. Visit for common lingo such as POS (parent over shoulder).

•Make Internet safety a family concern. Develop Internet safety pledges for children including an agreement to not meet anyone they meet online.

•Ask your children to show you where they go online. "MySpace, in my opinion," said Dobratz, "is a horrible, horrible website...I don't think it's friendly for our kids at all."

•Be aware of your child's phone text messaging.

•Talk with parents of friends your child visits and learn about their home rules.

•Check with your local library on Internet safety measures.

•Consider safeguarding options like blocking, filtering, and keystroke recorders.

•Report incidents. The cyber tipline is 1-800-843-5678.

A fine line, according to a video shown by Dobratz, exists between parents safeguarding kids from sexual pedophiles and taking away Internet privileges to the point that kids will rebel and even run away to unassumingly meet online predators, thinking they are friends who care for them.

Dobratz, who has served in law enforcement for 15 years, also addressed Paynesville students last week and gave them Internet safety tips. His public presentation was attended by 30 people. He gave a similar presentation, also sponsored by Lakedale Communications, in April 2005 in Paynesville.

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