Crossing the Line
This week state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal announced that MySpace, the social networking Web site, will provide Connecticut with information he requested about convicted sex offenders who have profiles on the site. Blumenthal, along with a coalition of other attorneys general, requested the information last week.
More than 5,000 registered convicted sex offenders have MySpace profiles, which Blumenthal said is posing an immediate, urgent risk to children. He said social networking sites should not be playgrounds for predators.
Blumenthal's work in ridding the site of sexual predators is an example of the kind of work that Chris Hansen, television correspondent for NBC Dateline's "To Catch a Predator," said must be done to make the Internet safe for children and teens. Hansen, a Fairfield County resident, spoke at a fund-raiser for The Center for Women and Families of Eastern Fairfield County last week.
Hansen warned parents to monitor their children's Internet use. He said parents tell their children not to talk to strangers or take rides from strangers. Parents also need to tell their children that they shouldn't be talking to people on the Internet whom they don't know. Children and teens should not be giving out personal information.
The father of two teenage boys, Hansen urged parents to limit the time their children spend on the Internet and to lead by example.
Hansen and Blumenthal, the father of four, agree that parents are the first line of defense in protecting their children from sexual predators on the Internet. The attorney general urges parents to create a profile on MySpace.com and search and browse to see if their own children have posted personally private information about themselves, family and friends, exposing them to sexual predators and inappropriate material.
To do this, you should go to www.myspace.com, click on "Sign Up" and create a profiles of yourself. (Provide only the information necessary to create a profile, nothing more). Then, you can search for your child's MySpace page. To search, go to the "Search" page and then to the "Find a friend" box. Type in your child's name and see if it comes up. (Remember, your child may have given a false or code name, so this search might not find his or her MySpace page).
You can also search using the "Classmate Finder" box. Type in the name of your child's school. All children who have listed their school in their profiles will be identified. If your child is not identified in this list, you can select friends of your child to see if your child is listed on their pages as a friend. You can also perform searches of the MySpace Web site using keyword and e-mail address searches.
Parents can cancel accounts by clicking on "Help" on the upper right corner and following the directions in the help list. A parent will need a child's password to cancel his or her account.
MySpace provides a link to free software that allows parents to block their children from accessing this site. In order to access the link to the software, you should scroll down to the bottom of the MySpace.com homepage and find "Safety Tips." Click on "Safety Tips" and right next to it is "Tips for Parents." Click on "Tips for Parents" and scroll down to the following link: K9webprotection.com.
Hansen said Dateline has worked with personnel from Perverted Justice, an organization that tracks sexual predators on the Internet, and law enforcement to set up a web to catch sex predators. They have caught nearly 300 alleged predators, who have gone through the justice system, in 11 different locales in two and a half years. The culprits have ranged from a rabbi who thought he was going to meet a 12-year-old boy to a teacher, an emergency room doctor and a "military guy." They came from all walks of life. What do they have in common? Hansen said, "They look like the guy that would be standing next to you in a grocery store."
During one of the setups, which usually take place in a kitchen, a teacher walked into the web. He admitted to Hansen that he and his fellow teachers would talk at school about how they should alert their students about the sexual predators on the Internet.
Hansen said the predators caught on Dateline fall into three categories: the hardcore sexual predator, the opportunist who is a man in his early 20s who doesn't think anything is wrong in meeting an underage teen, and the man who probably wouldn't be taking part if not for the anonymity and accessibility of the Internet, which has led to the individual becoming addictive and compulsive.
These predators get in so deep that they cross the line between reality and fantasy, said Hansen, urging parents to focus on their kids.
"The best protection you have is the conversation with your children at home," he said.
Rita Papazian is a free-lance journalist who has covered Norwalk issues extensively. E-mail can be sent to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© Copyright 2007 Rita Papazian All rights reserved.