Internet predators are individuals, typically adults, who prey upon young children for their own personal enjoyment. Internet predators often seek out their victims for sexual fantasies, but this is not always the motivating reason. If you suspect that your child is interacting with a predator, report the internet predator immediately. There are numerous non-profit entities who accept reports of internet predators, but you should start first and foremost with your local law enforcement agency.
Discuss the predation with your child. If your child is older, around 15-16 or older, you can approach the subject with a restrained level of candor (although you should use your discretion, and approach your child with more sensitivity if you know she does not respond well to forthright discussions). If your child is younger, you will need to approach the topic delicately; you do not want to frighten her or cause her to feel unsafe. The important points to discuss are: where the internet predator first contacted your child; who initiated the contact; what your child and the predator discussed; if the internet predator attempted to contact or meet your child offline; and if the predator attempted to solicit any sexual favors from your child, including lewd or nude photographs and videos. Ask your child if she saved any of the conversations or emails she had with the internet predator; if yes, ask her to show you the conversations herself.
This is not an appropriate time to reprimand or punish your child, so conceal your anger as best as you can and keep a calm demeanor. Otherwise, you may frighten her or even cause her to resist cooperation, which will make it much harder for you to investigate and report the internet predator. Remember, your child is the victim here, not a perpetrator.
Investigate the predation thoroughly. Start by reviewing your child's internet activities. Check the history on your internet browser, read through any saved instant messages, and review your child's email. Print any emails or conversations you find between the internet predator and your child. If you suspect the internet predator is attempting or making contact with your child offline, obtain copies of your home phone records and your child's cellular phone records. If your child is open to it, have him sit with you while you review his online activity. This may decrease the feelings of privacy invasion he may be experiencing, and also help you find the information you need faster.
Tip: Make a point to only search for things pertinent to the internet predator. Do not use this time to search through your child's personal emails and conversations unrelated to the matter.
Create a detailed summary of the events on paper as your child relays them to you. Include examples you find in the emails and conversations you uncovered, if applicable. Screen names, real names, dates, times, and places (including chat rooms and specific websites) should be included in your summary. When finished, create a new word processor document and type up the summary.
Report the internet predator to your local law enforcement agency. Your local police department is the best place to start. File a report with police about the incident, and bring a copy of your summary to both use as a reference and to attach to the report itself. Obtain a copy of the police report immediately afterwards. If there is a case number or report number attached to your police report, obtain this as well. Ask for recommendations of other agencies to which you can also file a report for the internet predator.
Note: If your police department is initially unwilling to accept a report, insist. If they refuse to relent, contact the U.S. Customers 24 hour helpline at (800) BE-ALERT (1-800-232-5378) to be connected to a law enforcement agency in your area who can help. Though internet predation is continuing to grow and many agencies are now taking reports of internet predators very seriously, there are still some agencies who believe there is no harm in online predation. Some may even blame you or your child for the incident. Do not let this deter you.
Report the internet predator to the website(s) where he conversed and/or attempted contact with your child. Be prepared to provide the predator's account number and any relevant details you have on hand. Note that you have already filed a police report for the internet predator, and provide details about the police department and the report itself in your report to the website(s). Offer your phone number and other contact information and invite the individuals who run the website to contact you if they wish to discuss the matter further.
Report the internet predator to online agencies that handle and investigate internet predation. Two fantastic organizations to contact are Cyber911 (part of WiredSafety), and CyberTipline (part of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children Network). Both of these organizations can be reached through their websites. You can also contact the CyberTipline at (800) 843-5678.
It is imperative to monitor your child's activities whenever she is online. Keep tracking of your child's social networking profiles (including MySpace and Facebook) and whenever possible, sit with your child while they go online. Even better, move your family computer to an open area of your home, like the family room. Your child will be less likely to visit websites you do not approve of, and you can monitor her activities with much more ease. Discuss the dangers of internet predators with your child before he signs online. Many parents refrain from doing so out of fear they will scare their children, but there are ways to approach the subject while minimizing your child's feelings of safety. Encourage your child to report any internet predators they come into contact with online immediately. If your child is old enough to surf the Internet, they are old enough to discuss online safety and internet predators.
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