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…