Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act: Call to Action (1/3)

These days there seems to be a constant stream of high profile and incredibly note worthy events dominating the news cycle. However, for those of us in the abolition movement, there is something happening in Congress right now that may not yet rise to the same level as say, health care, or hurricane devastation, or mass murder. But nevertheless, it is a development of significant (and historic) magnitude and one which I’d like to explore in the next few blog posts.

In the Senate over the past several weeks there have been ongoing committee hearings on the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act co-sponsored by Rob Portman (R-OH). [Just so you are aware, concurrently there is a similar bill working its way through the House of Representatives: Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act.]

If passed into law, these bills would cut into the broad legal immunity that Internet platforms such as Backpage are afforded when it comes to content posted on their sites by third-party users. There is a lot to unpack here, so I am going to devote these next three blogs to doing just that: 1) What amending section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1934 is all about and how you can help (yes, 1934!), 2) How we got here: a little backstory, and 3) The heavy pushback (but growing acquiescence) from the large tech companies.

To get us started on this journey I HIGHLY encourage you to check out the Vimeo video linked below. It’s only a couple of minutes in length, but provides an emotionally compelling backdrop for understanding this issue:

Voices of Survivors

 

An uncommon bit of bipartisan cooperation between Washington’s political parties emerged this summer, promising some long-delayed justice for human trafficking survivors. For quite some time advocates have been pushing Congress to fix a federal law: Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA). Courts across the nation have widely read this law as affording immunity to individuals and companies that knowingly collaborate with sex traffickers to advertise and sell women and children online for sex. Judge Lawrence Brown of California Superior Court has observed, “Until Congress sees fit to amend the immunity law, the broad reach of section 230 of the Communications Decency Act even applies to those alleged to support the exploitation of others by human trafficking.” Wait… WHAT?!?

In August the outcry finally reached a fevered pitch when a California court (Judge Brown’s) dismissed pimping charges against the owners of Backpage.com for their role in marketing trafficking charges. Part 2 of this blog series will delve into Backpage’s role in this new sex trafficking ‘marketplace’. But the bottom line here is that victims of crimes facilitated by Backpage.com have not been able to seek justice because of the section 230 provision of the CDA giving websites a broad immunity under federal law.

To quote Senator Portman, ““We all believe in free speech and I think everyone on this panel believes that we ought to have Internet freedom. But the Communications Decency Act was never intended to protect those that engage in illegal conduct, and it was certainly never intended to protect online predators and sex traffickers. In fact, nothing in the original text of this law suggests that there should be an all-encompassing immunity for websites like Backpage that knowingly engage in sex trafficking.”

Senate Bill 1693, the Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act, will close the loophole in section 230 of the CDA, legally green-lighting prosecution of those providers of interactive computer services, (e.g., Backpage) who willingly and knowingly permit the sexual exploitation of people through a third-party on their websites (human traffickers) for profit accruing to them (Backpage annually receives an obscene amount of money from these ads).

If this has you fired-up to do something, here’s your opportunity! Those familiar with the work of the North Central Ohio Justice Coalition know how highly we regard the work of Shared Hope International. For those of you who may not yet be familiar with this organization, I highly encourage you to check out their site and explore the vast amount of resources they provide:

Shared Hope, International

But using these resources, here’s how YOU can take action to support this critical legislation. I think you’ll agree… what they have put together for our use is rather unbelievable: exhaustive, far reaching, overwhelming come to mind!

Stop the Injustice

  1. Sign the petition

The Senate and House bills to amend the CDA currently sit with the House and Senate Commerce and Judiciary Committees. Please add your name to the petition, to tell the members of the House and Senate Commerce and Judiciary Committees that you support amending the CDA!

On this page you can sign the Shared Hope petition

  1. Share the word on Twitter

Get the word out that you support the voices of survivors calling to amend the CDA. Use the retweet buttons on the page to spread the word. Call on legislators who have not yet supported this legislation to become a bill sponsor, and encourage legislators who are already courageously supporting this legislation.

For those with Twitter accounts: Share with your senators and representatives

  1. Call your Representative and Senators

Calling your legislator is one of the most effective ways to move these bills forward. They even provide scripts to use for your Senators and Representatives! There are two versions, one to thank them if they are already a co-sponsor, and one to ask them to support the bill.

If you aren’t sure who your representatives and/or senators are, there’s a link provided to help you with this. As well, there’s a link to help you know whether your congressman/woman is a co-sponsor of the legislation.

SENATE: To call, you need to phone the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121. A switchboard operator will connect you directly with the Senate office you request.

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: If you know who your representative is but you are unable to contact them using their contact form (on the linked House of Representatives web page), the Clerk of the House maintains addresses and phone numbers of all House members and Committees, or you may call (202) 225-3121 for the U.S. House switchboard operator.

 

Every action you take adds to the swell of voices calling for Congress to listen to survivors and hold websites selling children responsible for their actions.

Thank you for your advocacy!

Next time: Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act (2/3): The new sex trafficking marketplace

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Pizza Anyone?!

Over the past four posts (and this makes five), I have been attempting to shine some light on why teen girls in particular can become vulnerable to sex predators (this pertains to teen boys as well, just not in as great of numbers). We started out by taking look at a girl who willingly hooked-up with a man she met on social media only to be sexually abused. We then wound our way toward a consideration of cultural factors that may have contributed to her taking such a risk in the first place.

I want to conclude this little thread by taking a look at one more cultural factor… one that in my experience has proven challenging for teens and adults alike to consider. Regardless, it’s a cultural factor that now has a profound impact on the developing sexual attitudes and practices of teens. And of course what I’m referring to is pornography.

[NOTE: Just so you’re aware, the quotes that follow are again culled from Peggy Orenstein’s book “Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape”. As I’m sure you’ve surmised, this work has become a rather influential resource for me and I can’t recommend it highly enough.]

 

Let me start with some of what my research on porn has uncovered:

Pornography has become a $97 billion global industry, systematically grooming huge numbers of boys to become future buyers of sex in person and on video.

Over 40% of children ages 10 to 17 have been exposed to porn online, many accidentally. In discussions I have had with teens, a great percentage weren’t even looking for it. They were just online searching a topic and porn seemingly found them!

Boys ages 12-17 are among the biggest consumers of pornography.

By college, 90% of men and one-third of women had viewed porn during the preceding year.

Increasingly girls are actively watching porn, with some of the female performers garnering a celebrity status. As they become role models, the girls seek to act like them. Orenstein writes, “On one hand, the girls I met knew porn was about as realistic as pro wrestling, but that didn’t stop them from consulting it as a guide. One 11th-grader confided, ‘I watch porn because I’m a virgin and I want to figure out how sex works.’”

OK, so it’s a HUGE multi-billion dollar industry with an increasing number of boys AND girls not only viewing, but emulating what they see. And what exactly does it depict?

Pornography is devoid of tenderness, caring, or loving in its images. It teaches that girls and women want and enjoy being sexually used, dominated, and humiliated by men. Furthermore, it turns women into objects of lust to be treated solely as a means for the man’s sexual gratification.

If the porn user dates, typically it is only a matter of time before he becomes more physical with his dating partner. It encourages him to try out the harmful fantasies that porn offers, including the fantasy that women secretly want to be taken forcibly or that they want to be raped. “Boys think they’re supposed to do this hammer-in-and-out thing and that’s what girls like. They don’t realize, ‘Dude, that does not feel good.’ It’s all they know. It’s what they see.” (from Girls & Sex)

 

So what’s to be done… what are we to conclude from all of this? Quite honestly, I’m not sure. In no way do I profess to be a wise sage who has some sort of magical answer. My intent with these past several posts was simply to inform. If you’re anything like me, some of the new sexual landscape may have served to downright shock you. My objective was to provide you with some awareness of what teens are dealing with in their world and I think I have accomplished that. But sorry, I just don’t have any wise advice to offer as a bottom-line.

However, I DO want to leave for your consideration a possible metaphor to be used with youth… one to replace the tired old baseball metaphor. Al Vernacchio, a Philadelphia educator, was profiled in The New York Times Magazine in 2011. In the article he compared sex to ordering a pizza. Quoting one final time from Peggy Orenstein:

“Both boys and girls start with an internal desire: with hunger, with appetite. In both cases, you may decide, for any number of reasons, that it’s not the right time to indulge. However, if you do proceed, there should be some discussion, some negotiation: maybe you like pepperoni and your dining companion doesn’t, so you go halfsies, or agree that one person will get his pick next time, or choose a different topping altogether. In other words, there is a good-faith effort to satisfy everyone involved. There is no rounding the bases metaphor, no striking out. The emphases are on desire, mutual consent, communication, collaboration, process, and shared enjoyment.”

And perhaps it is THIS that we should be hammering home with our teens… a metaphor germane to both the times and their lives… a metaphor that honors gender equality, NOT gender dominance.

 

Next time I plan on leaving this topic and moving in a different direction. Till then…

BLOG CORRECTION: Oops… I messed something up!

As it happens, I was completely in error saying that oral sex is the new “first base” for teens today. When writing the blog, I was working from notes I had compiled while reading Peggy Orentstein’s “Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape”. Yesterday I put my hands on a copy of the book and realized my mistake (perhaps the time has come for me to purchase my own copy!)

To set the matter straight, I would like to directly quote a conversation from Chapter 2: Are We Having Fun Yet? This is between Peggy and Sam (the same girl mentioned in the blog):

So what, I asked Sam, was today’s version of the “the bases”?

She took a long swig of her latte. “Well, first base would be kissing,” she said, “Second base would be a hand job for a guy and fingering for the girl.”

I raised my eyebrows. Already it seemed to me that a few steps had been skipped.

“And third base would be oral.”

“Both ways?” I asked.

Sam laughed again and shook her head. “For the guy,” she said. “Girls don’t get oral sex. No. Not unless you’re in a long-term relationship.”

“Wait,” I said. “Back up. I don’t actually recall oral sex as being a base at all.”

Sam shrugged. “That’s a difference between my generation and yours,” she said. “For us, oral sex is not a big deal. Everyone does it.”

Sooo… the title of the blog SHOULD have been: Third Base Now Means WHAT?!? (I have made revisions to the title and content of the original post to make it accurate). Kindly accept my apology for my misuse of the baseball metaphor. Although it doesn’t significantly alter my contention that in today’s teen world oral sex has become both widespread and a ‘norm’, it was in fact an error in need of correction. It is my intention to ALWAYS provide accurate information and I am chagrined that only 10 posts into this blog I was so off base (pun intended)! But sincerely, I will be more diligent moving forward (and always remain quick to own my mistakes should they occur).

Third Base Now Means WHAT?!?

[NOTE: My original post contained inaccurate information about the baseball metaphor and “first base”. I have now revised the blog to reflect the needed corrections.]

Over the last month and a half I have been exploring how teens can become victims of sexual predators. The last blog looked at how cultural trends, particularly marketing techniques, have impacted the gender equality of youth. This blog continues this cultural discussion, only this time focusing on the attitudes and practices that have resulted, becoming the ‘norm’ for today’s teens.

Resources

Girls and Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape by Peggy Orentstein

Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture by Ariel Levy

It has become ‘trendy’ for women to present themselves in a highly sexualized manner, as well as to participate in and consume forms of entertainment that sexually objectify women. With this generation, the whole idea behind the feminist movement has somehow been flipped on its head; from the notion of ‘girl power’ or female autonomy to an expression of ‘sexual power’. Examples abound in popular culture portraying female identity almost solely in terms of sexuality: music videos, movies, magazines and TV programs such as ‘Girls Gone Wild’.

The first ‘Girls Gone Wild’ film was released in 1997. By the end of 2002, the company began airing 30-minute late-night infomercials on all major networks. The videos followed a common format in which a film crew interacted with a large crowd of people (party, club, other event) and women willingly took off their clothes, engaged in sexual activities, or participated in wet T-shirt contests. A hallmark was getting the crowd to prompt (shame) a shy unwilling girl to finally take off her top to expose her breasts, proclaiming afterwards how empowered she now felt.

This ‘raunch culture’, as Levy characterizes it, does not enable women to negotiate sexuality on their own terms because it is ultimately oriented towards male pleasure. The good old-fashioned slumber party, called a rainbow party (with a contemporary twist), serves as an illustration:

All the girls in attendance put on a different color of lipstick and invite one “lucky” boy to join in the fun. They then, one by one, treat him to oral sex until voila… his penis is a spectral rainbow color.

 

Teens today have never known a time when ‘ho’ wasn’t part of the lexicon: when sixteen-year-olds didn’t get breast implants: when porn stars weren’t topping the best-seller lists: when strippers weren’t mainstream: and coming back to the oral sex of our rainbow party, when fellatio wasn’t the new ‘first base’. In today’s hookup culture, even if nothing sexual even happens during the hookup (e.g., kissing), there is an expectation that she will get down on her knees and orally pleasure him.

This is the phone conversation counselor Lisa Bunnage had with one of her teen clients:

Lisa: Hi sweetie, how are you doing?

Teen: I’m doing OK.

L: Good, how was your weekend?

T: It was OK. I partied and the usual… I drank a bit and I met a new guy.

L: Oh, what’s he like?

T: He’s OK. I didn’t really like him that much so I wouldn’t let him kiss me.

L: Good for you! I’m really proud of you!

T: So, I just gave him a blow job instead…

[If you’d like to hear Lisa’s entire TED talk, search “The unsexy truth, the hookup culture | Lisa Bunnage” on YouTube.]

 

“Sam” has lots in common with many of the more than 70 teen and college-aged women Peggy Orenstein interviewed for her book, “Girls and Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape.”

The California high-school student is smart, accomplished and on target to be accepted at a top tier college. She projects self-confidence and talks about coming from a family of strong women.

Yet Sam has found little satisfaction when she’s acted on her desire for physical intimacy with boys. In fact, the sex has been pretty bad – even demeaning. As Sam tells Orenstein, the encounters have mostly consisted of casual hookups, where she often feels obligated to perform oral sex and to never expect anything in return.

 

When I was an adolescent the baseball metaphor was widely used in my social circle to talk about our awkward and oftentimes clumsy first attempts at dating: striking out, or getting to first base (kissing, making out), or second base (feeling her breasts), and so on toward the ultimate home run (which some would brazenly talk about, even though they hadn’t actually had the experience)!

But returning to Sam, the following is a direct quote from “Girls & Sex” in which she shares with Peggy what the “bases” represent today:

So what, I asked Sam, was today’s version of the “the bases”?

She took a long swig of her latte. “Well, first base would be kissing,” she said, “Second base would be a hand job for a guy and fingering for the girl.”

I raised my eyebrows. Already it seemed to me that a few steps had been skipped.

“And third base would be oral.”

“Both ways?” I asked.

Sam laughed again and shook her head. “For the guy,” she said. “Girls don’t get oral sex. No. Not unless you’re in a long-term relationship.”

“Wait,” I said. “Back up. I don’t actually recall oral sex as being a base at all.”

Sam shrugged. “That’s a difference between my generation and yours,” she said. “For us, oral sex is not a big deal. Everyone does it.”

I don’t know about you, but I for one was totally flabbergasted (OK… shocked!) to learn that oral sex had become “third base” in the metaphor… that in this sexually supercharged culture of ours there is an expectation that even if nothing else sexual occurs, that the girl will perform fellatio on the guy without any anticipation of reciprocity.

The next time I’d like to explore how pornography factors into this. I’d also like to offer a new dating metaphor suggested by Philadelphia educator, Al Vernacchio: ordering a pizza!

Till then…

“Cinderella Ate My Daughter”

In the last two blog entries I have attempted to explore the whole issue of internet predators and teen victims (albeit in a somewhat cursory fashion given that the subject is so vast). In a nutshell:

We live in an online world where youth increasingly cultivate relationships via social media. For them, danger can result from the belief that this anonymous cyberspace and the people met there are somehow more real than actual friends; that virtual “friends” can replace and be as enriching as face-to-face interactions with real-life people. Young girls continue to grow up with a natural need and desire for acceptance and romance. It’s just that now, the person cultivating the relationship on the other end of the mobile device may very well have sexual assault/abuse/kidnapping/trafficking as their end game.

For the final installments on this theme (for now), I want to turn attention to the role culture is playing in grooming young girls to be sexually manipulated. And to help me with this I am drawing on two works by author Peggy Orenstein: “Cinderella Ate My Daughter” and “Girls and Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape”.

“Cinderella Ate My Daughter” is a book for which Ms. Orenstein researched the marketing and sexualization of girlhood here in the United States. As she characterizes it, we are now living in a girlie-girl culture awash in princesses and hues of pink and purple. And over the past several years, this marketing is aimed at reaching girls at younger and younger ages. One only needs to look at Halloween costumes marketed for ‘tween’ girls (ages 8-12) to verify this to be true. Here’s one example:

Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz

An unintended consequence of this marketing onslaught is young girls who form a self-image that they absolutely MUST be pretty, pink, hot, and sexy. The time-worn story goes something like this:

Once upon a time in a land far away, there lived a young girl who dreamed of being a princess. And what was the first thing that culture told her about being a girl? Not that she was competent, strong, creative, or smart. But that every little girl wants (or should want), to be the “Fairest of Them All” (mixing the princess metaphor to also include Snow White!) And as the princess of the land, of COURSE she would marry her Prince Charming, her knight in shining armor. And they would live (everyone please feel free to chime in here): Happily… Ever… After!!!

We use this quote from human trafficking survivor Holly Austin Smith in our presentations with teen girls:

“Like many middle schools girls, I believed my self-worth was dependent on having a boyfriend and/or having sexual appeal to boys and older guys. Welcome to the typical life of any misguided and media-overexposed American teenager living in the suburbs and addicted to love. For those kids who aren’t being noticed by anyone except predators, a pimp or other trafficker is likely to fall in line.”

I mean what if being a princess doesn’t turn out to be all that it was cracked up to be? What if the stereotype of a princess instead reveals her to not be pretty enough… or good enough… or important? What if the princess culture of sexualized pinks and tiaras leads instead to depression, eating disorders, distorted body image, and risky sexual behavior?

Again, from Ms. Smith:

“I cringe when people refer to me in news articles as a “former sex slave” because if I was a sex slave to anyone, it was to popular culture. Advertisers, entertainment producers and other moguls of the media were the ones who seasoned me to accept sexual exploitation and prostitution. My body was an object, its sole purpose, I believed by that point, was for sex.”

Picture a young girl who wants a guy and tries her best to snag him by: wearing the same fashions as Beyoncé… and applying her makeup just like Kim Kardashian… and watching porn to learn what guys want from sex. In short, emulating everything she can possibly think of in the hope of attracting him into her life. And yet, she still looks in the mirror and sees… a LOSER. And to compound matters, she may be image-shamed in the hallways at school (i.e., fat, flat, ugly)… or on social media… or even by her “friends”.

Then one evening as she’s working at the local library on a paper for school, an older good looking guy sits down at her table and after a time of glancing innocently her way says, “You have the most beautiful eyes.” And what comes out of her mouth next could very well define what her life is about to become. She could totally blow him off. Or she might utter a completely non-committal, “Thanks,” (but which still leaves the door ajar to his advances). Or… after being pummeled by everyone in her social sphere for oh so long, here is someone who actually seems INTERESTED in her… she could look longingly back and say, “Really? Do you think so?” And in that moment… she’s HIS. Unfortunately, what I have just described is a common set-up for how traffickers “recruit” victims (and yes… public libraries have become a prime recruiting location).

I’ll pick this up next time and continue with cultural factors that impact the sexualization of teens. Till then…

 

Is There Danger On Both Ends?

[This is the second installment of a blog theme exploring internet predators and teen victims. For your reference, the first part was posted on July 28: 50,000 Predators Are Trolling Social Media… RIGHT NOW!]

I begin this entry still stuck in the year 2006! In that year the Ad Council ran a public service announcement on the danger of internet predators that remains chilling to watch. It depicts an overlapping dialog between an older male and much younger teen girl. I’ve linked to a YouTube post of the video and encourage you to check it out for yourself to take in its full impact:

Child Internet Safety PSA – Online Predators

Here’s the script:

Man:  Meeting a teen girl online is actually pretty easy. You can go into any chat room and just start talking. Most of the girls are usually so insecure and desperate for…

Teen:  Attention from older guys is totally flattering. They’re so much more mature and understanding than the guys my…

M: Age actually works to my advantage. They like to brag to their friends that they’re dating an older guy, so I just play along and pretend I’m really…

T: Interested in the same things I am. You can talk forever and really get to know someone without worrying about looks or whatever. That’s the best thing about…

M: Chatting seems unthreatening to them, so they lower their guard. After a while I start talking about how we’re soul mates and how lucky we are to have found each…

T: Other people don’t understand. I know what I’m doing. If you really care about each other, there’s nothing wrong with…

M: Meeting them is the goal. Once I get them out of their house… well, that’s when things get really interesting.

Announcer: Online predators know what they’re doing. Do you?

Now… from the research on internet predators that continues to this day, this is a somewhat accurate overall portrayal of an internet predator-victim scenario: older man trolling the net (e.g., chat rooms) searching for an impressionable girl to engage in conversation, teen looking for romance and flattered by the anonymous wiles of an older guy, more ”mature” male knowing how to psychologically manipulate a younger girl into believing he “gets” her, teen becoming more and more enthralled with the “depth” of their connection to the point of sensing no real danger and actually needing to meet with her “prince in shining armor.”

Without becoming a total research nerd, numbing your brain, and causing you to flee, I nevertheless would like to provide a couple of salient points to more completely detail what we have discovered about these internet encounters. As we already know, most Internet-initiated sex crimes involve adult men who use the Internet to meet and seduce underage adolescents into sexual encounters. They use communications such as chatrooms, social media, instant messaging apps, and video games to meet and develop intimate relationships with victims.

However, a finding that surprises many is that in the great majority of cases victims are COMPLETELY aware they are conversing with an adult. Offenders RARELY deceive victims about their age OR their sexual interests. Sex is usually broached online, and most victims who meet offenders face-to-face go to such meetings EXPECTING to engage in sexual activity. And further… three quarters of victims who have face-to-face sexual encounters with offenders DO SO MORE THAN ONCE!

Now… take all of that in for a moment. Unlike the predominant belief, the age and intent of the predator are VERY upfront. And counter to the common perception, more often than not the teen isn’t duped or coerced into the sexual encounter; they are willing participants oftentimes returning additional times.

Factors that make youth vulnerable to seduction by online predators is certainly a complex topic: immaturity, inexperience, and the impulsiveness with which some youth respond to and explore normal sexual urges. And please understand… in NO WAY am I attempting to characterize vulnerable teens as “at fault” for the heinous sexual assault that can befall them. But it makes me wonder… does the danger reside exclusively with deviant sexual predators? Or have attitudes and practices that are becoming “normalized” within teen culture more and more contributing to the danger as well?

It is this cultural aspect that piques my interest. What part does culture play in grooming our teens to be susceptible and vulnerable to the advances of online sexual predators? It is to this question that I will turn my attention next.

Before leaving, though, I want to provide some information to any adults who may be overly concerned for the online safety of a young one in their care. Below is a link to a PDF document by cyber-security expert, Mike DeCesare, in which he gives four tips adults can use to keep teens safe online:

How To Keep Teenagers Safe Online

Till next time…

50,000 Predators Are Trolling Social Media… RIGHT NOW!

“It has been estimated that, at any given time, 50,000 predators are on the Internet prowling for children.”

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales

Now THAT is quite an attention grabbing quote! For those of you with discerning eyes, you’ve already picked up on whom the Attorney General was and when he served. Alberto Gonzales was, for a time, U.S. Attorney General under George W. Bush. He made those remarks in 2006 in announcing a then new federal policy to deal with the problem of internet predators: the Project Safe Childhood program.

Historically, this was around the time when there was still a lot of conjecture about the whole internet predator issue. We knew from law enforcement that there were an increasing number of cases of child sexual exploitation: in 2006 the FBI had more than 2,400 child exploitation investigations under way. But we were JUST beginning to gain a more detailed psychological profile of the phenomenon of ‘internet’ sexual predators from research studies such as the Youth Internet Safety Survey conducted at the University of New Hampshire.

This is all meant to underscore the “50,000” number. It’s a number we use in our presentations to hopefully grab the audience’s attention as we consider just how serious and pervasive this issue is in today’s world. But we also stress that it’s just an estimate and an estimate that was given ELEVEN years ago. Quite honestly, I don’t have more current statistics (and would welcome you supplying me with some (along with their source) if you do!)

But what if that number is inflated (and goodness, 11 years hence, it could easily be something even more astronomical). But what if that number is something more along the lines of 10,000 or even less? If you’re like me, it still is positively horrifying to even consider. Imagine… RIGHT NOW, there are thousands of sexually deviant predators trolling social media looking for innocent teens to victimize.

And tragically, time and again as I scour my Google Alerts, new stories of the sexual exploitation of children by internet predators emerge. By way of example, I’m providing a piece of a news article of an arrest made this week in Chicago. It should give you a sufficient overall gist of the sequence and scope of the exploitation:

‘Snapchat Perv’ Lures Teen, Sexually Assaults Her at Hinsdale Oasis

Illinois State Police said he took photo of the assault for later use, then ditched 16-year-old girl at tollway oasis.

July 25, 2017

By Lorraine Swanson

HINSDALE, IL — A Chicago Heights man lured a 16-year-old girl via Snapchat to the Hinsdale Oasis under the ruse of setting her up with a blind date before sexually assaulting her, prosecutors said. Illinois State Police were in court earlier last week seeking an arrest warrant for Luke Luevano, 21, on assorted sex and child pornography charges. The alleged abuse happened on May 8.

The teen told police she had met a twenty-one-year-old man online and they began exchanging Snapchats. The two then exchanged phone numbers. Luevano allegedly told the teen that his roommate might be interested in her. The prosecutor said the teen and “roommate” began sending texts that were sexual in nature.

Illinois State Police said the “roommate” turned out to be Luevano. Luevano arranged to pick the teen up at her home, the prosecutor said. The teen claimed when she asked Luevano how old he was, she got no response. She told him she was 16. Luevano is said to have driven the teen to the Hinsdale Oasis, where he allegedly forced her into giving him oral sex.

While in the act, the teen saw what she believed was a camera flash. She asked him to delete the picture. The prosecutor said police recovered the photo from Luevano’s phone, which the teen identified as her head and Luevano’s penis. Luevano allegedly took off his pants and had intercourse with the teen. After the alleged assault, he left the girl at the tollway oasis.

Luevano admitted to police that he knew the girl was 16. He took the photo so he could pleasure himself at a later time, the prosecutor said. Luevano has no prior criminal background.

 

A twenty-one-year-old man with no criminal background nevertheless feels compelled to troll Snapchat until he lures a teen to a motel where he sexually assaults her (and there’s the whole child pornography component to this as well). BUT… the other end of this scenario finds a 16-year-old girl with her social media status set to public, who WILLINGLY agrees to meet with a virtual stranger in the hope of a romantic connection.

It’s THIS part of the tragedy that I feel the need to explore further. We have long suspected the danger of internet predators (which has only been confirmed over the years). But what remains little comprehended by most adults (yet revealed by research studies such as the Youth Internet Safety Survey), is WHY an innocent and vulnerable teen would willingly agree to expose herself to such danger. I’ll pick up with this aspect the next time. Until then…