It was a case in 2008 involving a 14-year-old girl who had been spent the last year meeting at a local motel with a 26-year-old she had met in an online chat room that made District 26 District Attorney’s Office Investigator Steve Tanio’s ears perk up.
“I knew then that we were behind the 8-Ball on this internet predator thing,” Tanio said. “The parents found out and came to us and that when we knew, it was time to catch up on this thing.”
Now, Tanio and other local authorities, including Sheriff Kevin Mitchell, have been focusing energy on teaching children how to be safe when surfing the net.
But the most important safeguard, Tanio says, is for parents to be truly engaged.
“They should be very aware of what different apps their kids are communicating on and using,” Tanio said. “Parents would not drive their kids across the state and drop them off at the Tulsa Mall or Oklahoma City and leave them there unaccompanied. That is what they are doing if they are not monitoring the activity on their phones.”
And this is not a threat to be taken lightly, Tanio said.
According to an advisory issued by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, in 2015 nearly 1,000 instances of child sexual exploitation were reported to the OSBI through the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s Cybertipline. In each case the initial contact involved the use of computers, apps, chat-rooms or social media.
“Predators who are on these sites are experienced and they share tips back and forth on how to con kids,” Tanio said. “Your child is not contest for these kind. It is game on for them.”
Tanio suggests a daily monitoring of the child’s usage of electronic devices such as cell phones, tablets, readers, web cams and laptops. He said also apps and games also need to be looked over.
According to OSBI internet crimes experts, there are numerous parental controls as well as safety features already available on your child’s phone.
Parents are also encouraged to communicate openly with children about the risks but also about why you are monitoring their device usage.
“Young people should be able to identify risky behavior and know what to do if something questionable or bad happens,” according to the OSBI handout.
Parents should also have a dialogue about their child’s computer or phone usage and ask open questions such as;
* Where do you spend most of your time online?
* What is your favorite App or video game right now?
* Who do you game or communicate with most?
* How do you decide who gets to follow or friend you?
* What do you share, download, post, upload or view?
* Can I read your profile with you?
* What would you do if you encounter behavior or communication that makes you uncomfortable?
If your child is the victim of sexual misconduct online or you observe this type of behavior, immediately report the incident to www.cybertipline.com, the OSBI or your local law enforcement.
According to Tanio, anymore than you would allow your child to wander down a dark alley in a dangerous city alone, you should not allow your children to wander around on the internet without help and oversight.
“Kids are always curious and learning. And if parents aren’t there to guide them in the process it would be pretty irresponsible,” he said.
Woodwardnews: Online predators are a threat everywhere