While the media’s focus on internet safety has shifted almost exclusively to cyberbullying and sexting, other forms of predation continue to pose a threat. Once over-hyped as lurking behind every online contact, then dismissed as statistically insignificant, child sexual predators constitute a very real concern, and they are constantly trolling for new victims.
To thwart their exploitation of minors, Child Predator Units continue to pose as underage minors online, and undercover agents posing as young teen girls or boys continue to reel in these predators with virtually every fly they cast.
In a recent sting in Pennsylvania, two men have been charged with using the internet in an attempt to lure underage girls into sexual encounters.
According to Attorney General Tom Corbett’s office, Jacob Andrew Lucas, 25, and Richard Dean Carbo, 47, allegedly propositioned attorney general’s office agents who were pretending to be 13-year-old girls, through Internet chat rooms.
Charges were filed against Lucas after he sent a naked picture of himself during his first online chat with an agent pretending to be an underage teen girl and pressured the ‘girl’ to meet with him in person. Lucas then repeatedly engaged in online chats with the undercover agent, going into detail about the sexual acts he wished to perform with the ‘girl’, even going so far as to ask when her parents worked so he could arrange to meet with her at her house when no adults would be around.
Lucas was arrested by officers from the Child Predator Unit and police after he arrived at a predetermined location to meet up with the undercover agent posing as the teenager. He has been charged with one count of unlawful contact with a minor, one count of unlawful contact with a minor, two counts of unlawful contact with a minor and one count of criminal use of a computer.
The second arrestee, Richard Carbo, is also charged with attempting to engage in sexual activity with a minor after soliciting an undercover agent who posed as a teenage girl in an Internet chat room. He told the agent that he wanted to meet with her in order to “teach” her about sex, according to the attorney general’s office.
Carbo sent webcam videos to the undercover agent posing as a teen girl, in which he was naked and performing a sex act. He also sent pornographic images, and discussed bestiality with the ‘girl’. Carbo was arrested by police and agents from the Child Predator Unit and charged with 14 counts of unlawful contact with a minor; along with one count of criminal use of a computer.
Why this matters to you
More kids get harmed by schoolyard bullies than get hit by cars – but we still go to great lengths to teach youth how to look both ways and follow traffic safety rules. This same pragmatism must be applied to online safety issues as well, we cannot fail to address in a careful and thoughtful way the full scope of potential online issues youth may face.
Some internet safety “experts” have all but dismissed the threat of sexual predators online as a rarity that essentially only involves troubled youth, and have advised that efforts should instead focus on areas that impact a larger number of victims. This is shockingly poor guidance. This is not an either/or scenario.
While successful sexual exploitation of a minor met through the internet is far less common than many other forms of abuse, it is not a rare outcome. The potentially horrific and life-long consequences of sexual exploitation demand that focus, education and prevention efforts remain a priority for families, schools, and others who teach youth about online safety.
Another common, though unfortunate, observation is that most of the youth who were solicited online were already experiencing trouble in other aspects of their lives. While this is true, it doesn’t present the larger more accurate picture.
Some youth who have fallen victim to online sexual predators were shockingly ‘normal’ with great grades, strong friendships, and popular. Others have been in trouble at home, at school or with the law multiple times. Some are lonely, vulnerable, questioning their own sexuality, unsupervised, or have already been victims of sexual exploitation.
All youth are more vulnerable at some points than they are at others, and predators, including child sexual predators, are constantly probing online and offline for youth who are in one of those vulnerable moments.
It is essential for parents, teachers and caregivers to candidly discuss with kids and teens how to appropriately engage with others, how to reject inappropriate contact, and how to seek help when needed whether the contact is online or offline.
As you discuss online safety with kids and teens, talk about the full breadth of potential threats, teach what youth can do to stay safer and avoid harm, and assure your children that you will give them your total support if problems arise.
This does not mean scaring children, nor does it mean banning youth from using the internet. In fact, banning youth from social networking or other online activities is likely to backfire and lead to deception. It also places youth at an extremely high level of vulnerability as youth who have been told they can’t use these online tools, can’t turn to you if things go wrong.
Actively engage with your child online, understand who they are interacting with, teach social responsibility, family safety and privacy, and be in tune to changes in their behavior that could indicated issues.
We need the ongoing discussions about cyberbullying and self-exploitation through sexting, but we cannot set aside teaching youth about online sexual exploitation, and other potential areas of risk.