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#DigiWishes: For Parents to Learn How to Protect Kids From Cyber Predators

If you have time to read only one Digital Wish, please make it this one! Thank you Heather for taking the time to share your invaluable experience as an investigator of child exploitation, sexual assault, child abuse, domestic violence, narcotics, espionage, homicide and more.

Who are cyber predators looking for?

I’ve been asked this question a lot. For 14 years I was a Special Agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS…yes, like the tv show). I lived and worked all over the world chasing bad guys. In those 14 years I watched as the criminal landscape changed. It was as if the doors to homes were slowly opening to the cyber predators.

So…who are the cyber bad guys looking for? The kid in another town, the kid on the news, the kid in another state, the kid in another country, surely someone you don’t know or care about. Nope. He’s looking for your kid.

Are there really that many cyber predators out there?

There are more cyber predators out there than you could ever imagine. Law enforcement has

developed tools that will allow them to see geographic areas where child pornography is being downloaded. The first time I saw the tool I found myself just staring at the screen. I wanted to go find every single one of those bad guys and personally throw them in jail. But of course I’m only one person. Unfortunately, there just aren’t enough good guys to catch all of the bad guys. It’s not like tv. It’s literally like searching for a needle in a haystack.

Fortunately there are local, state, and federal law enforcement teams who work every single day to catch these guys. As they develop new ways to exploit our kids, law enforcement tries to keep up. Our good guys devote their careers to helping kids and holding the bad guys accountable. The toll it takes on the good guys is generally over looked. Amongst that community it is often said…”we hunt the evil you pretend doesn’t exist.” But what if you could help?

I’m not a cop, how could I possibly help?

You’ve already taken the first step by reading this article. If you weren’t concerned about online safety you wouldn’t be here right now. You wouldn’t be interested in CyberWise. But here you are. YOU can make a difference.

While I was a Special Agent with NCIS I was always saddened when I talked to families after their child was victimized and the parents had absolutely no idea of the dangers online or what their child was doing on the Internet. It reminded me of when our ancestors came to America. In families of immigrants the parents didn’t speak the language, so the kids had to translate. We need to learn to speak the kids new online “language”.

It really does happen to families just like yours…

Of all the investigations there are a few that still bother me. I sat in the room with a beautiful fifteen year-old girl (we’ll call her Jane) and her mom. Both of them crying. The girl out of shame and embarrassment. Her mom out of guilt and heartache. Several months before Jane started talking to someone online who she thought was a young Marine (we’ll call him Joe). She told me about how they developed a “friendship” online. He even sent her a picture of himself (or so she thought).

Eventually Joe told Jane he was going to deploy and needed naked pictures of her to get him through his time overseas. She complied and sent Joe numerous pictures. Jane told me at school she had been told for years not to do it, but they were “friends” and she wanted to support him while he was deployed. After sending an untold number of nude pictures, Joe wanted to meet in person. Again, Jane had been told many times not to meet anyone she met online. But…they were “friends.”

When the car pulled up at their agreed upon meeting place Jane knew something was wrong. This old guy didn’t look like Joe. Every instinct in her body told her to turn around and run home. But, she didn’t want to be rude. She got in the car.

Before anyone noticed she was gone, Jane was raped by “Joe”, who wasn’t a handsome young Marine, but rather an old guy who lived in his mother’s basement. Fortunately she was dropped off and came back to her family. We later learned Joe had also passed her pictures around to numerous other pedophiles.

You may have heard similar stories. You may have thought that’s some other kid, some other family. What I want you to know is that family was just as “normal” as any of us. Jane had been taught in school not to talk to people she d