Alicia’s Story: Tortured and raped by an Internet Predator
Saturday, February 13, 2010
The Internet can be a scary place for teenagers. Last April, Oprah did a story on Alicia. I wanted to share it with you because 1) even though we think our teens are responsible, sometimes they make decisions with out really thinking about the consequences and 2) internet predators LIE. They will say and do almost anything to get what they want. Here is her story as reported from Oprah :
When Alicia was 13 years old, she made headlines as the girl who was lured by an Internet predator—and survived.
Alicia was a shy girl from a close-knit family, but on New Year's Day in 2002, she did something completely out of character. She agreed to meet a friend she had been chatting with online for eight months.
Alicia says she hated the cold and never went outside alone after dark. "Yet it's the coldest, darkest iciest night of the year and I walk out my front door to meet a total stranger," she says. "That's something that's so out of my character and just shows you an example of how intense the brainwashing is."
"I can remember standing behind a tree and thinking, 'This is really stupid.' My senses came back to me for a second." At that moment, Alicia says she heard her name being called out and got into the car with 38-year-old Scott Tyree. "Once I got near him, something changed and I realized that this person's a monster," Alicia says.
Tyree drove Alicia to his home in Virginia. Over the next four days, Alicia says she was raped, bound in chains, shocked with volts of electricity and hung by her arms as her 13-year-old body was beaten.
"He tortured me," Alicia says. "He treated me like an animal—a dog. I basically did whatever I had to to survive. It's like I'm a whole entirely different person. That man did kill that little girl. He did. That girl's completely dead."
Tyree bragged to his friends about the girl held captive in his basement. He even videotaped her bound and chained and shared those images over the Internet.
One of the friends Tyree had been sharing his webcam videos with online saw Alicia's face in the newspaper and decided to turn Tyree in. "I suppose he got nervous that this was now going to be on his hands if [Tyree] murdered me," Alicia says.
After four days of sheer hell, Alicia was rescued by the FBI. She was found chained to the ground by lock and collar. "When I said he treated me like a dog, he did," Alicia says.
Alicia says she now realizes she was groomed by a child predator. "He groomed me, and in doing so, he brainwashed me. That sounds crazy, but he did. He took apart the 13-year-old girl that I was and created this creature that he wanted me to be."
To understand what it's like to be groomed, Alicia says to remember what it was like to be 13 years old. "There's days where the world's wonderful, and there's days where it seems like the world just hates you." The bad days are when Alicia says the predators step in. "There's somebody there, always there, to tell you that it's going to be okay."
Alicia says it was the simple things Tyree would say to gain her trust. "Like getting in a fight with your mom because you wouldn't clean your room. And he'd say: 'Oh, well, why would she treat you like that? You're an adult. It's her room, she'll clean it.' Or you get a bad grade in school and he'll look at the answer you gave and say: 'No, that's right. You're really smart. You think outside of the box. Your teacher is an absolute idiot.'
"After eight months of talking like that, it takes you apart," Alicia says. "It does. And he's always there, all the time."
When Alicia started her relationship with Tyree, social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook didn't exist yet. "That wasn't even around when this happened to me, so there's this whole other level of danger they need to be aware of, and it's sad. It's sad because it should be something wonderful connecting with your friends. That's something children should be able to do. But the world's so scary that they can't. There's so many bad people in it that they can't, and that's horribly sad."
Tyree pled guilty to charges of sexual exploitation of a minor and travel with intent to engage in sexual activity with a minor. He was sentenced to 19 years in federal prison.
Alicia is now fighting to keep predators like Tyree behind bars. A junior in college, she spends much of her time speaking at schools about her ordeal, and hopes to join the FBI so she can fight for other children.
When we hear of stories like these, it just goes to show how important it is to monitor your children's online interactions. You can never be too safe when it comes to your children. If you've not already, download McGruff Safeguard today. Help us help you keep your loved ones safe.
For those of you who aren’t a “techy” type like me and keep up with the news, Facebook just celebrated it’s 6th birthday. Along with that birthday came a new milestone as the popular social networking site just hit its 4 million member mark.
Two months ago the social network hit 350 million, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg reminds us that number was less than half of today’s 400 million mark a year ago. It took the site about three months to climb from 300 to 350 million users and only about two months to gain another 50 million, indicating Facebook’s explosive growth is actually still accelerating.
As great as this is for Facebook, this only ups the ante for internet predators to interact with kids and teens. This is why it is so important to incorporate McGruff Safeguard into an everyday habit. Parents can feel more at ease knowing their conversations are monitored to inform them of any suspicious activity. However, its not just about catching internet predators, it’s also about keeping kids and teens safe from themselves. In other words, if there is any sign of depression or suicidal thoughts, we inform the parents strait away. If we notice any suspicion of drug use, or sexual abuse, we let parents know.
Facebook has been a huge communication platform for people of all ages and it started with the Gen Y’ers. There have been many posts that cause concern, and some lives have been saved because of this social network. A few months back, I posted about how my friend had noticed her nephew’s posts were getting more and more disturbing to him. She ended up reaching out to him because of these posts. It ended up being a pivotal moment because he was sad and was contemplating suicide. He is doing much better now since his aunt reached out.
We’ve had parents share stories with us. We’ve heard stories of success, of deeper communication, and also stories where parents were just grateful to know a little better about what their kids were up to, good, bad and ugly.
As popular social sites grow, so does the need for more monitoring and more concern over who is on these site. Download McGruff Safeguard today. Join the force that is dedicated to knowing their children better.
I ran away from home when I was 14 years-old. I had a family that loved me but I wanted no part of it because my parents were extremely controlling. I couldn’t do this. I wasn’t allowed to do that. Had the internet been readily available to me as it is today, they would have tried to control that as well. You see, my parents had wonderful intentions, but they were very authoritative. My dad was a control freak, but I believe they thought that if they controlled me, I would turn out “okay” without the “worldly” influence to take me away from God. I hated it, so I left. Thankfully, I only ran away to a friend’s home for two weeks. However, not everyone works that way. Some go to extremes. When kids put it out there online that they are unhappy and want to run away from home (and they do), that’s when it gets dangerous.
Just Friday morning of last week, a 32 year-old VA man was arrested getting off of a bus in Massachusetts, in route to “rescue” a 12-year old who wanted to run away. Here is an excerpt from the story:
After the girl posted plans on a website to leave home, O’Brien reached out to help her and the two began conversing regularly via e-mail, police said. He said he was 25; she told him she was 14.
“He told her he would come up and help her run away,” King said. “In October, he e-mailed her and said he had bought a bus ticket to come up.” O’Brien also purchased a return ticket with the girl’s first name and his last name, police said.
On Friday, the girl’s parents noticed a change in her behavior and discovered clothes and money in her backpack, police said. Worried, they checked her e-mail history while she was at school and then contacted police after discovering the e-mail messages.
Sometimes I sit back and wonder, “Does this really happen?” No matter how often we hear about it, it’s still shocking and disturbing that there are people out there who prey on young, confused kids. Thankfully, the girl’s parents were concerned enough to poke around and see her internet activity. This is the exact reason McGruff Safeguard is in existence today. This is the kind of activity you can monitor. Had the girl’s parents been able to see ahead of time what was happening, conversation could have taken place to get the relationship back on track. Not every story has a happier ending.
I encourage you to pay close attention to your family, especially if your kids are growing increasingly distant. Use McGruff Safeguard to help monitor. Help us help you keep your family safe because there are predators out there that could care less. If you have any questions or concerns at all, please let us know. We welcome your feedback.
The other night, my 5-year old decided she was going to hijack my computer. You see, I had been looking up music videos on You Tube. She loves music and enjoys the Spirit, Stallion of the Cimarron soundtrack. She asked me to look up some of those videos…she was suddenly hooked. I watched her as she processed different video links, enthralled that she could hear or see anything she chose with just a click of a button. She then asked me to look at some Land Before Time videos and it went from there.
I was monitoring this as it was happening. A little while into her exploring the wonderful world of You Tube, I needed to take a call. In the three minutes that I was away on the phone, I walked back into the room my daughter was in, to hear a video laced with profanity. Someone had placed a song over one of the videos. She had no idea what she had clicked on. I quickly took control and got her back on track. Now, anytime I have my computer out, she requests to see videos because there are so many options.
The point of this story is that children are learning younger and younger how to work computers. I still had typing class in high school...yes, on a typewriter. My daughter has computer sessions in Kindergarten. The shift in technology has made it so much harder to control what our kids stumble upon. Absolutely anything is accessible online, and our kids usually know how to get there. Of course with this, comes much more danger than we could have anticipated. However, we CAN monitor when we aren’t actually there. With McGruff Safeguard, we can keep track of the conversations and friends that our kids are engaging with and having online.
I know that at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is our kids’ safety, both physically and mentally. McGruff Safeguard is free a free service. Help us help you keep your kids safe online.
Safe Internet Alliance Panel - Confronting Internet Risks Today
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
The Safe Internet Alliance is hosting a panel discussion today (in about 15 minutes, actually) called the "Framework for a Safe Internet." The conference will host a veritable who's who of Internet moguls--representing giants like Yahoo, Verizon, Microsoft, and AOL--in a series of panels each focused on maintaining a safe Internet for ourselves and our children. Marty Schultz, Chief Safety Officer at McGruff SafeGuard, is also preparing to share today on a panel about confronting Internet risks today. I thought I'd share with our readers a sneak peak at the discussion to ensue in a few hours.
The bottom line: the world is a dangerous place. Ergo, the Internet is a dangerous place. It's simple logic. Unfortunately, however, it's not always so simple to see. The dangers in this world that we as parents grew up with are still there--everything from scraped knees to busy streets, and even ill-willed perpetrators and pedophiles. So, as your child rests comfortably in a desk chair staring at a computer, isn't he or she protected? No.
Here is the mental shift we as parents must make: logging on is tantamount to heading out. Your child, though physically present in your home, is socially traveling the world and encountering a host of new, and also not-so-new dangers. The risks have changed, but the principal is unchanged: the world is dangerous. We must protect our children!
But don't the ISP's, social network policies, and federal regulations keep the internet relatively safe for my kid? They try. But, at a park near a busy street, do you trust the town's police force to keep your kid from darting into traffic? No. They post signs, "children at play," and the like--but ultimately, the role of protecting the next generation falls squarely on the parents.
The only tried-and-true method for keeping kids safe is for parents to accept their responsibility to know what their kids are doing. The only way to do this online is for parents to know not just where their children go online, but what they do when they get there, what they talk about, and to whom they talk. If your child is at the park, that seems safe enough. But if they're over by the bushes talking to the shadowy figure with an eerie look to him--you just might want to know that. You just might need to step in and protect your innocent child from the dangers he or she might not yet understand.
At McGruff SafeGuard, protecting children online is our first objective. If it means speaking at a thousand panels just like today's, we'll be there. We also want to empower every parent to do their part. Learn about our free internet monitoring tool and consider downloading it today.
I found this video I wanted to share with you. It tells a story. It actually tells a couple of stories. One of the first issues we presented to you when we began to blog was cyber-bullying. According to the web definition, cyber-bullying is bullying which is carried out through an internet service such as email, chat room, discussion group or instant messaging. It can also include bullying through mobile phone technologies such as short message services (SMS). It is a real issue. Please take a few minutes to view the video.
Cyber-bullying is a serious issue. Suicide is a serious issue. Can you imagine an entire audience watching as your child committed suicide online? Consider McGruff Safeguard today if you haven’t begun using it. There are a lot of scary things out there, and you can never be too careful. Help us help you protect your loved ones.
True Stories: "They started saying things to her that were sexual and degrading..."
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
One of the themes that comes up so often in the discussion of online parenting, protection, and especially monitoring is the unpalatable idea of "snooping" or spying. McGruff SafeGuard is a tool that gives parents insights into their child's activity online, but not for the mere sake of "gotcha's" or a covert sting operation. As one parent writes, "I do not feel like I am invading her privacy because there are so many issues that come up and need to be discussed in today's society."
This parent, like many parents, was not questioning her daughter's integrity. She did not want to invade privacy. This parent wanted to be a good parent--protecting her child from the dangers which might go otherwise unnoticed in the secret realms of social media.
"The service is great! I had a couple incidences with my 14 year old daughter. There were boys at her school that she was friends with and they started to say things to her that were sexual and degrading. I was glad I had the opportunity to view the comments to let my daughter know that what they were saying was disrespectful and that "no boy or man" has a right to talk to any girl the way they did."
When your young teen daughter begins to get unwanted attention from men, there are lots of emotions that can come up. Many times, the child does not feel empowered to tell an authority, as the evil of "tattling" is so ingrained in our early childhood minds. Or, more often, the embarrassment of it all prevents an emotionally fragile teen from talking.
With McGruff SafeGuard, however, this parent was able to see the perverted advances of her classmates and reaffirm her daughter's self-esteem. "No boy or man has a right to talk to any girl the way they did," the mother explained. The mother continued:
"I do not feel like I am invading her privacy because there are so many issues that come up and need to be discussed in today's society. I did, however, tell my daughter that I have the service and that it alerts me to sexual content via email. The service is the most important thing a parent should have if they allow their child freedom on the internet."
This mother chose to let her daughter know she was watching--that if anything came up that might endanger the young girl, that Mommy would be there to protect her. After all, isn't that what our children should know about us as parents? Not that we will be there to bust them, but that we are there to protect them.
I was talking to my friend last night about our teenage years. We were discussing some of the things we went through as individuals and what we went through with our friends and girl/boyfriends. When she was in high school, she was in a very abusive relationship. She tells me this story and I asked her if I could share it with you because of its prevalence in teenage relationships today.
My friend met Kevin when she was 17 years-old. She was a junior in high school. However, she didn't meet him AT high school. She met him at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. She had been getting involved in drugs, had run away from home, and was often in juvenile detention because of her rebellion. As a result of all the trouble she had been in, her parents put her through a drug and alcohol treatment center. She then had to attend NA meetings. After she met him and spent time with him, they began dating, and she thought she fell in love.
After a few months, she noticed that she never hung out with any of the people she used to. He wanted to spend all his time with her and became upset if she did anything outside that didn't include him. To her, this was sweet because it meant he really "cared." She didn't recognize the signs of this controlling relationship. A few months after that, they became sexually involved. He became verbally abusive, got mad when she did other things, and eventually started "pushing" her around. She knew this wasn't right, but once again, she thought she was in love. It wasn't until after she was finally sick of him being a jerk that she tried to break things off. When she did, he came to her parent's home and threatened to kill himself. He was beating on the door, threatening her as well. The garage door was open and although she had locked all the doors, he was in the garage and had taken the phone off the hook so she was unable to call the police. Thankfully, the doors held up and her parents eventually came home. She filed a restraining order and never saw him again.
I tell you this story because often, when teens think they've fallen in love, it can cloud their judgment. They may not be able to see that their girl/boyfriend is showing signs of potentially dangerous behavior. Because teens do so much of their communication online, these signs are much easily detectable. McGruff Safeguard can follow conversations and keep parents informed on questionable matters and communication. That way, you can be aware of the relationship and help assist your teen in gaining a higher sense of themselves to understand that jealous and violent behavior is wrong and unacceptable.
We want to help you protect your children and teens. Monitoring what is going on in their relationships is one way we can look out when you're not able to.
When I was a teenager, I had a diary. I would write everything down in that thing. It was mind outside of my mind…my thoughts, my feelings, my frustrations. That is what it was for…to get out what was inside of me. All of my friends had them. We usually had a lock on them. AND of course, my parents would occasionally dig around and find it, and I inevitably got in trouble for something. Rarely did my folks talk to me. I usually got grounded (booooo).
Blogging is all the rage right now. It's been around for about ten years. However back when it first began, it was called journaling. Today, with online journaling…blogging…we have the ability to catch potentially dangerous activity before it actually occurs IF we pay close enough attention.
Let's take the LA Fitness shooting that took place August of this year, for example. The shooter was 48 year-old, George Sodini. Here's the deal, this is a shooting that could have been prevented. According to AOL News, "His 4,610-word Web diary appeared to be a nine-month chronology of his plans to end his misery with a shocking act of carnage at his gym. He couldn't understand why women ignored him, despite his best efforts to look nice."
I wonder how it must have felt to be that lonely. So lonely that he would take lives. So lonely that he would take his own life after. Teens go through so many emotions as they are trying to figure out where they fit in this world. They leave clues if you look. They cry out for help. I know the LA Fitness shooting is an extreme example. But it is one that demonstrates that blogs may hold clue to what is going on inside someone.
Do you know if your teen has a blog? You could do something as simple as a Google search on your child's name. McGruff Safeguard, understands that online monitoring can be tricky. We’re here to help you understand and communicate with your children and teens. Have you experienced any diary or blogging issues? How have you handled them if you have? We would love to hear from you.
We have all heard the talk recently about President Obama's comments on the Kanye West incident. Obama commented about what he thought of West's antics at the VMA's, which he thought was off the record. Some ABC network employee's overheard the comments, thought they were on record and tweeted about them. The tweets were later deleted, but by then it was too late. It was all over cyberspace within seconds.
It's fascinating how one little "joke" or misguided comment can blow up into something so controversial. For the president, this one comment he made in the heat of the moment, has created somewhat of a scandal for him. He soon realized the mistake and apologized, but because of the internet it was already out there for everyone to see.
This should be a lesson to us and our children. We never know who is listening, and how one careless word or thought can have a lasting effect. With YouTube, Facebook, Twitter...etc. a child can lack discretion in one minute and anyone can exploit that. People love controversy and love to play it up even though it could hurt someone.
I know almost everyone has, at one time or another, written or said something about someone or themselves that they wish they could take back. As parents we need to talk to our children about the kinds of things they talk about online. We need to help them understand the dangers of posting certain things, and how one insignificant word or post can do lasting damage to them or the people they care about.
McGruff SafeGuard can help you to keep an eye on the types of things your child is talking about online.
I have recently started spending more time on a few of the social media sites. Twitter can be the most addicting, yet it doesn't really give out as much information as some of the others, such as Facebook (at least not yet!)
If you haven't heard of Facebook, Twitter, or MySpace you are on another planet. These are just three of many. Most likely your child is on one if not MANY of these websites. They post anything on these pages from silly photos to quizzes about themselves, which may give intimate information to anyone on the web.
When I was growing up we didn't have this kind of way to reach out to others. You had to go outside or call your friends to do something or tell them anything. Nowadays, they can just get on Facebook and not only post what they are doing right now, but post photos and videos as well. They may think that only their "friends" can see these images and information, and when and if they decide to cancel their page they will just be deleted off the web entirely. This is not what happens.
On February 4th, Facebook made a change to their Terms of Service (TOS) that raised panic among its users. All content ever uploaded on Facebook could be used, modified or even sublicensed by Facebook in every possible way - even if you quit the service. Here is what the Terms of Service (TOS) for Facebook stated as of February 4th:
You hereby grant Facebook an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to (a) use, copy, publish, stream, store, retain, publicly perform or display, transmit, scan, reformat, modify, edit, frame, translate, excerpt, adapt, create derivative works and distribute (through multiple tiers), any User Content you (i) Post on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof subject only to your privacy settings or (ii) enable a user to Post, including by offering a Share Link on your website and (b) to use your name, likeness and image for any purpose, including commercial or advertising, each of (a) and (b) on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof.
Basically they stated that any content, whether it be photos, videos, or posts could be used by them even after you terminated your page. This understandably caused some outrage among Facebook users. Some things could be protected depending on your privacy settings, but most likely your child wouldn't have know this.
Facebook has since reverted back to its original terms of service due to the overwhelming response of its users. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has posted a response on the Facebook blog stating: "Trust us, we're not doing this to profit from you, it's so we are legally protected as we enable you to share content with other users and services."
Even though Facebook has since reverted the changes in their TOS previously noted, the uproar that it caused has opened peoples' eyes to the very real possibility that when something is uploaded to the internet, it may be impossible to retract. We as parents need to be aware of what our children are posting to these different sites and protect kids from unknowingly damaging their futures. Millions of people are uploading information to huge online databases, and by doing so may be opening themselves up to irreversible defamation and harmful misuse of their seemingly innocent content.
It's a very scary thing to realize. This is why we need to let our children know that what they post should not be something they don't want anyone and everyone to see. Help protect your children by learning what they are doing online. Download McGruff SafeGuard for free today.
When we talk about internet predators, what first comes to mind? Some creepy looking person that puts out the kind of vibe you just sense? Do you picture a monster who has had a horrible childhood? Some disfigured face that you may believe could hurt someone? I mean, really, what do you picture?
I am close friends with someone who grew up in an abusive home. She put her own father behind bars for a number of years. He was a preacher, a father, a husband, and a man who raped his daughter every night from the time she remembers…being eight years old and didn't stop until her 16th birthday.
Predators are not always what you expect. As a matter of fact, here is an excerpt from an internet predator who chose to speak anonymously to an organization called I-Safe
You've heard all the warnings about the dangers of the Internet. Your parents may have warned you not to chat with strangers and not to give out personal information online. But are the dangers real or just the paranoia of over-protective parents and adults?
Unfortunately, the dangers are more real than even the most protective adults realize. How do I know? I was an Internet predator. Six years ago, I was arrested and convicted of attempting to meet an underage girl on line. You're probably thinking, "Yeah but that wouldn't happen to me. No way would I meet some creepy old man online. Besides, I'm too smart to fall for that.
The first misconception of that thinking is that the men that are online doing this are not all creepy looking stereotypical perverts that you would recognize right away. Most of them, like myself, are successful, family oriented men that are well respected in their communities. I was a husband, father and church going member of my community. I was the last person anyone would have expected to be involved in something like this. But the Internet is changing society in ways that we have not begun to understand and is allowing people to behave in ways they never dreamed they would.
The most important thing you can do as a parent is to be aware that danger can sometimes lurk in the places we least expect it. Internet predators are very real and could manifest themselves anywhere. Often, they can be a master of disguise. That is why McGruff Safeguard can help monitor and keep their eyes open for any unusual behavior. Help us help you keep your kids safe.
My in-laws computer has been restored from virus attacks four times in the last three years. Sometimes, data was saved. Sometimes not. What could be causing such a vicious attack? Did someone open an unsafe email? Is there a hacker maliciously attacking their home network? Nope, just games.
That's right, games. Just google for "free games" and you will find 219 Million matches for your search. Each of them, no doubt, provide either a free download of an installable program, or free online games using interactive websites. Given free reign of the internet, the youngest boys in the house had already figured out how to click "I agree" and "next" buttons until the game appeared on the desktop.
What's more disturbing than the viral attacks this software opened their computer up to, however, was the way in which these games could indeed be provided for free. Someone had to develop them, program them, publish them, etc. How do they do it for free? It's simple: sell advertising.
Banner Ads are the most common form of online advertising. But unfortunately, the content is difficult to censor. See, the advertisers who utilize these games as the vehicle for placing their message in front of viewers aren't targeting six-year-old boys. Their target demographic is teenagers. I've played games with the kids before and seen ads for new CD's with objectionable titles, paid memberships to online social networks, t-shirts with raunchy humor, and on rare occasions, even soft-core pornography.
"What are you doing Dilan," mom yells from the other room. "Just playing games, Mommy," he replies. Satisfied with the innocent-sounding idea of just playing games on the computer, mom never gives it a second thought. But, unless monitored closely, your kids could be exposed to serious hidden messages and agendas when all they really bargained for was to shoot space ships or solve puzzles.
Here are some tips for avoiding dangerous games:
Restrict install-permissions for your child's user account on your computer.
Provide your child with a list of "bookmarked" sites that you have pre-selected for them to play on. Suggestions include: Hasbro.com or Nesquik.com
When my brother and I were younger, our parents belonged to a small social club in the tiny one-horse town where we grew up. Every so often, all the families would meet for dinner at the Lions Club lodge in town. At one such meeting, my brother, all of 3 years old at the time, was being particularly restless in his seat. One parent teased, "What's the matter, you got ants in your pants?" A few people chuckled and conversation went on... until a few moments later when mom turned around to find my brother, pants to his ankles, examining carefully to find these ants that must be there somewhere.
That story was funny from the moment it happened (and as you can imagine, my brother would prefer it be forgotten today). At three years old, children have little regard for their privacy and even less grasp on the far-reaching impact this little event would have for the decades to come. It seems nobody is capable of forgetting that story even today.
What we need to remember in the Internet age is that teens aren't altogether more astute as to the far-reaching impact of their actions. They may not even have an altogether higher sense of privacy than my brother did at three. But, what should be most concerning is this: the social network of those who may be on-lookers is infinitely larger than the quaint pot-luck dinner in our tiny town lodge.
My brother would never have dreamed that at the age of 31, old ladies around town would still remember that cute little boy who took a joke too literally. Does your teenager know how far-reaching the Internet community can be, and how permanent a mark can be made? Emotions posted on a Facebook wall, a careless remark in a Twitter feed, or even a indiscreet photo displayed on a MySpace page... all of these have the instant capability reach millions of viewers and to follow a teen into adulthood with consequences no child could foresee.
Mom laughed out loud (or LOL, if you will) as she redressed her totally oblivious son. No harm done and a great story to tell at family dinners. Are you there, at the social gatherings of today's Internet community? McGruff SafeGuard allows parents to "be there" to watch, see what their kids are up to, and keep them from dangers that they may never even know are ahead.
I was reading this article from 2007 from BoingBoing.net by Cory Doctorow. He was discussing how most of the predators online weren’t necessarily targeting young children. They were targeting teenagers. Here is an excerpt from the article:
“… the research in the cases that we’ve gleaned from actual law enforcement files, for example, suggests a different reality for these crimes. So first fact is that the predominant online sex crime victims are not young children. They are teenagers. There’s almost no victims in the sample that we collected from – a representative sample of law enforcement cases that involved the child under the age of 13.
…So these are not mostly violence sex crimes, but they are criminal seductions that take advantage of teenage, common teenage vulnerabilities. The offenders lure teens after weeks of conversations with them, they play on teens’ desires for romance, adventure, sexual information, understanding, and they lure them to encounters that the teams know are sexual in nature with people who are considerably older than themselves.”
“The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's cyber tip line took 85,301 reports of child porn and 8,787 reports of online enticement last year. Investigations of Internet crimes against children resulted in 3,000 arrests nationwide in 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
The statistics show how an entire generation has moved online, seeking reinforcement from others with the same abhorrent sexual tastes, said Michelle Collins, executive director of the missing children center's exploited child division. Most disturbing is the correlation between child porn and enticement, said Wisconsin forensic computer analyst Dave Matthews. Viewing leads to doing, he said. "They're grooming themselves," Matthews said.”
These numbers are scary. What’s even scarier is the possibility of it being under our nose. It’s hard being a parent and trying to monitor everything our kids are doing, especially online. And if you’re like me, you don’t want to come off as a nosy parent. That’s why McGruff Safeguard is such an important factor in monitoring what our kids are doing and who they are talking to. Join the fight to keep your kids safe online. Visit GoMcGruff.com.
Last week, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed into law a bill that bans registered sex offenders in Illinois from using what this bill calls a "Social networking website." The definition put forth in the Illinois law seeks to define social networking sites primarily by the ability to host a profile of oneself combined with the electronic messaging--chat, email, writing on "walls," etc.--that accompanies it. But, surprisingly, the bill has been met with a mix of applaud and criticism.
For starters, aside from the very "legalese" attempt at defining social media, the bill does have some potential weaknesses. Critics fear that the bill is too narrow-focused and may lead to a false sense of safety for children online. Others simply wonder how one state's legislation will make any impact on such a broad-reaching medium like the Internet. For example, the bill does not account for predators in Gary, IN befriending Chicago youth. And, there are also those concerned that the alienation of one-time criminals could be unjust--creating a "virtual concentration camp" as Mike Doyle of Chicago Now puts it .
But, let's put this into perspective. The 19th Amendment didn't outlaw sexism in the workplace, spousal abuse, or other forms of gender discrimination. But it was a step in the right direction, no doubt! And, all of the above did follow in due time. I'm not going to delude myself into thinking that this simple bill, one of the first of its kind, will radically change the safety of children online... by itself. But, at the same time, I do applaud Quinn and the Illinois legislation for taking a first step.
To be sure, much revision is needed, and will undoubtedly come. But as other states begin to follow suit, and federal legislation such as the AWARE Act continue to gain the attention of lawmakers, I believe we'll someday look back to this era in history and see landmark legislation. We're taking small steps today to protect our children for generations to come in the ever-increasing internet community. As society changes, so must legislation. The internet has forever changed the society we live in. There is an urgent need, so I will continue to support the legislators who--though maybe behind the eight ball--do have the safety of our nation's children at heart.
Recognizing Taney County's Battle Against Online Predators
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
I know the past couple of weeks, we have been discussing ways to monitor and protect our children’s online activities. There may be some parents out there freaked out about their kids being online. It can be easy to do. However, it’s important to keep in mind, that even though the internet can be used to lure the innocent unsuspecting, it is also being used to lure the predator.
This is exactly what the Taney County Sheriff’s Department in Missouri, did last week. Michael Sean Pruiett, 37, of Ava, was charged in an Internet crime sting, after allegedly exposing himself on a webcam in the belief that the person on the other end was a young girl. This man was found in an internet chat room.
"Welch's sole purpose is to chat everyday with possible predators, in web chat rooms, finding the best ways to act like a teen or child.She must be very careful not to entice them. Laws require that the predator must be the one to initiate inappropriate conduct.
Welch says as soon as she logs on she is approached by so many people she has to start ignoring them. And many, she says, are from the Ozarks. Russell says having a deputy dedicated to this type of crime is vital to public safety."
These are the type of people that sooner or later are very apt to progress on and go into rapes and other acts with children," Russell says.
Russell says parents may be surprised to see what is going on with children online, and there are people living in southwest Missouri who expose themselves to kids and try to lure them into face to face meetings."
I want to look at this twofold. Even though the internet is often used for bad, it is also being used to catch the bad. And it’s also great to know that there are folks out there dedicated to protecting our children from someplace other than our own home. If you are a law enforcement officer and are with us in our effort to keep children safe online, please join our Facebook group, Law Enforcement For Protecting Children Online.
Internet Predators Traveling to Pennsylvania Busted
Attorney General Tom Corbett and the state's Child Predator Unit deserves our accolade today, along with all the law enforcement teams who serve to protect our children in the increasingly cyber-active world. Corbett's team is discovering that threats to the children of the Pennsylvania communities they protect are not always local. The Internet has made it easy for predators to solicit minors from several states away, and the predators are willing to travel, it appears. But Pennsylvania has not settled for a defensive posture. The aggressive undercover work of the Child Predator Unit resulted in another arrest today, and we think that's something worth congratulating.
Today, Corbett announced the most recent arrest of one man from Ohio and an accomplice local to Reading, Penn. The two men thought they were soliciting 13-year old girls. They were wrong. Agents from the Child Predator Unit used assumed identities of underage girls and made the arrest in a suburban rendezvous.
The Gant Daily, however, reports that this arrest is the 53rd child predator arrest this year alone. Since it's inception in 2005, there have been 230 arrests to-date with an amazing 100% conviction rate. Their stings have put would-be predators behind bars from as far away as Texas and Florida. Our hats are off to you!
According to the Gant Daily's report, Corbett doesn't want to do it alone. He want's parents involved to:
"Corbett said the best defense against Internet predators is for parents to regularly discuss online safety with their children, to actively monitor their online activity and to encourage kids to immediately report any situation where strangers make sexual propositions."
So, how can you get involved? One way to get started is with McGruff SafeGuard's free monitoring tool. But more than that, take Corbett's advice: talk to your kids. Finally, we want to invite you to connect with other parents like yourself who are fighting to keep kids safe: join the Facebook group "Parents for Protecting Children Online."
I was at my cousin's house. His son, four years old, was at the computer. "Oh, does he have some games on there he can play?" I asked my cousin. "No, checking email," The four-year-old quickly replied.
Checking email?!?! When I was four I dragged a corded phone, the only phone in our house, to my mom in the next room so she could dial the number to my friend's house. Who taught this kid to email? Who is he emailing with?
Parenting children of the Internet Generation has unique challenges, but many parents might be surprised just how young that generation really is. Nielsen did a study of children on the Internet starting as early as age 2 up to 11. They found these young children spending 63% more time on the Internet today than children of the same ages did 5 years ago. This young generation now represents nearly 10% of the overall online population, and it continues to grow faster than older demographics.
All of this amounts to one thing: protecting your children online may start earlier than you expect. No parent would place their child in a room stocked with pornography and weapons, resting assured that the child is safe because they don't know which drawer to open or under what mat to find the magazine. The Internet holds dangerous content, not to mention predators of all kinds, that are too easily discovered by entirely innocent behavior.
Consider the child, recently back from an exciting trip with dad to the car show in town. Can you imagine what he may find when he innocently searches the term "Hot Rod?" What would a six-year-old do when an email promises fun games if you only download the software attached? What would a ten-year-old do when a wealthy Nigerian businessman supposedly offers him millions for safe keeping?
Children ages 2 to 11 are online 63% more today than 5 years ago, and over half that time is spent watching video on sites like YouTube. It's never to early to begin educating children about the internet community, modeling safe behavior, and monitoring an active child on the Internet.
What is the first thing that comes to mind when we hear of this thing called a “chat room?” For me, (I’m a visual person) I picture this invisible room of random strangers chatting away. Almost like some secret society. For some, it is a place to meet friends. Others may see it as a place to escape from real life if they aren’t happy with where they are. Some may be seeking like minds to share ideas and thoughts in a state of anonymity. And others use it as a platform to prey on the weak at heart, the insecure, and the young.
There are vast differences for ‘reasons’ why someone may want to join a chat room. For those of you who have never been ‘in’ a virtual chat room, it may look something like the photo above. (Please click on picture for larger view.)
Usually, there is a box on the right of the screen which displays all the usernames of the people in the chat room. Some use their real name, others use a ‘screen name,’ and some use a fake name. However, unless you actually know the person in real life, you never truly know who you are talking to. That is why it is easy to use chat rooms for sting operations.
Internet predators can disguise themselves as anyone. It is for this reason McGruff Safeguard was created. So we can be informed on what is actually going on in the chat rooms our kids are entering. When I say “see what is going on,” I mean, McGruff Safeguard monitors and sends you conversations word for word. This is not to get them in trouble. It is to help you be INFORMED on what is going on in order to adjust your parenting strategies.
We care too much for our loved ones to let them get ‘snowed’ by some internet predator lingering in the shadow of a chat room. McGruff is here to help you keep your loved ones safe.
We have met and spoken to countless parents--hundreds if not thousands--and there's a common sentiment that we'd like to bring out into the open. It's usually mentioned in about the same fashion. We're sharing about our product. The parent is nodding in agreement. Then they pause. They lean in closer. And, in a lower voice, the parent asks: "so, is this like spying on my kids?"
In my mother-in-law's home, the window over the kitchen sink provides a panoramic view of the entire back yard. It's far beyond a child's ability to understand the luminosity and reflections that prevent them from seeing in, even while mom can see out quite clearly. She watches her son play. She watches him break the rules. The punishment ensues. Was she spying?
Of course not. When a child ventures outside, there's risk involved. And, where risk is involved, monitoring is not just permissible, it's required. The same is true on the internet. The internet is a neighborhood, not unlike your backyard, but with infinitely more neighbors, more ways to "play" with them, and less ways for you to monitor you kids' activities.
One parent wrote to us about her initial trepidation, "I felt a little guilty." But, as you'll read, McGruff SafeGuard let this mom see the encouraging results of her adolescent son making the right decisions. It also let her help him avoid the wrong ones. But ultimately, what we all want is to impart the wisdom to know the difference.
"Let me start by saying this is the best $30.00 I have ever spent. I have two stories to share. The first is a happy one for any parent to know. My son a freshman in HS goes to a roller rink every Fri. I'm not clueless I know the drugs are there but you just hope your kids not the one. My son came home early one night and wouldn't say why he just seemed mad. Later I checked the service to find out why he was mad. He was mad because some of his friends went and left to do drugs. He wrote to his other friend that they were a waste of his time and he was not going to go with them again. I was so happy to read this message. Another time some kids were going to have a sleep over and he added that his parents would not be home. It was good to know that and put a stop to the sleep over. I felt a little guilty when I first put it in but the feeling of safety has won me over as well as the other people I have told about this. I hope you can get the word out to other parents and still keep the kids in the dark about your product. It is nice that they don’t know it is there. Thank you again."
As disturbing as this is to hear, I am grateful for the undercover officers who are doing what they can to catch predators who attempt to prey upon children. The following excerpt was taken from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and was written by Amy McConnell Schaarsmith on July 22, 2009.
Five Internet predators from Western and Central Pennsylvania have been arrested and charged with felonies for sexually propositioning undercover agents they thought were 13- and 14-year-old girls, according to Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett.
The men were identified as Lahbib Hannoune, 30, of Glenshaw; Joseph Duane Tyger, 46, of Commodore, Indiana County; Nityanand Gopalika, 30, of State College, Centre County; Dominic J. Galliani, 44, Uniontown, Fayette County; and Harlan Gene King, 26, of Confluence, Somerset County. The men's arrests bring the number of arrests of online predators by the attorney general's child predator unit to 49 in 2009, a 40 percent increase in the number of cases compared to last year.
In all five cases, the attorney general's office said, the men approached undercover officers in Internet chat rooms and quickly steered the conversations toward sexual topics, including graphic descriptions of the sex acts in which they wanted to engage. Mr. Hannoune, Mr. Gopalika and Mr. Galliani also sent the "girls" webcam videos of themselves that showed them nude and masturbating. Mr. Tyger, Mr. Gopalika and Mr. King traveled to a predetermined meeting location in Cranberry to meet the "girls."
Now, let’s pretend these posing teenagers were not posing at all. What if for whatever reason, these girls felt compelled to meet these strangers. Who knows what could have happened. It is scary to imagine that this goes on daily, and it is scary to know that this number is only increasing.
Now, more than ever, it is imperative to teach our children about Internet safety. I challenge you to learn for yourself what is happening online. Together, with McGruff Safeguard, we can monitor what is happening with your kids when you don’t get the chance to. McGruff Safeguard was created to keep children safe online. Together, we can make a difference in our loved one’s lives.
Internet safety took another blow this summer as US Airforce airman Christopher Stevens has been charged with child enticement to engage in sexual activity. The story's details are so frighteningly unassuming, parents shudder to think how this can happen so easily on social media sites intended for harmless fun. But it did. And the quiet town of Stow, MA, will never forget how deep such danger can strike.
Police say the solicitation began on Facebook. In a community where "friends" are easy to find and engage, Stevens began sending messages of a sexual nature to the young girl, only fourteen years old. Based on the content of the messages, it was no misunderstanding that Stevens was interacting with an underage girl. The pursuit continued nonetheless.
When parents reported their daughter missing at 11:00 PM one Friday night in June, the police were fortunate to find a cell phone left behind. It contained text messages with explicit sexual content and exact locations of their rendezvous. "Had we not found her, we don't know how troubling this could have been." commented District Attorney Gerry Leone.
The communication had begun on Facebook, and online communication continued for months before finally leading to the dreaded LMIRL ("Lets Meet in Real Life"). But investigators say it could have been avoided. The content of the messages made it painfully obvious that Stevens was soliciting a minor. But, left to develop without supervision, this secret online relationship quickly grew out of hand.
At McGruff SafeGuard, it's these tragedies which are so preventable which give us passion for what we do. Parenting children online requires the same boundaries and supervision as parenting children offline. We invite parents to become a "fan" of McGruff Safeguard: Take a Bite Out of Internet Danger on Facebook. Share your thoughts, concerns, and questions with us. Let's work together to make the internet a safer community for kids.
True Stories: "My daughter was experimenting with marijuana..."
Thursday, July 23, 2009
We hear stories everyday about the dangers children face online, the parents whose fears became reality, and the sad impact these events can have on families across America. But, through our partnership with the NCPC to provide McGruff SafeGuard for free to parents who need to protect their children, we also get to hear stories of encouragement, stories of parents who know they've protected their child and secured their future.
I'd like to share some of these stories on the blog from time to time. "True Stories" is a blog series of real families whose lives have been impacted by McGruff SafeGuard and the NCPC's efforts.
"The service has been a valuable tool for me for the past couple of months. I am the mother of two teenage girls, 13 and 16. The world is a scary place...so many dangers. Kids today don't realize how dangerous their choices and the influence of friends can be. They are invincible. Nothing can happen to them...after all.."everybody else does it."
My oldest daughter had been experimenting with marijuana. I caught her just in time. With The service on my computer and constant vigilance I have been able to monitor where her head is at and what she is up to. I have also been able to monitor where her friends' heads are and what they are up to. I have realized which friends I need to keep her away from. I caught my daughter taking a stroll down the wrong path just in the nick of time. The service has played a big role in helping me get her back on the right path and keeping her there. I would recommend this product to anyone."
If you have a similar story, or would like to share your experience parenting your children on the Internet, please feel free to leave a comment here. We can't get enough encouraging stories.
I have been speaking to parents lately who differ so vastly in their views of Internet safety. This scares to me to a degree. Here is why. I have quite a few friends on Facebook and I am friends with their kids as well. Facebook is one of the world’s largest social networking sites. There are more than 250 million active users on Facebook, and 120 million of those users visit the site at least once a day. (I am included.) Something that has raised concern with many parents are photos. There are millions of photos on Facebook.
Kids now have cameras on their phones, some have them on their computers, and there is also your regular digital camera that allows you to instantaneously upload photos online. Photos that may be 'harmless' in a teenagers eye could be a playground of eye candy for some audiences, and that's not good.
Facebook also has an application called ‘Bumper Stickers.’ This is an area full of stickers or ‘photos’ that your child can post to their profile page. The stickers chosen usually tell a lot about the personality of the child and what they are ‘into.’ I kind of freaked out over some of the bumper stickers that our kids can choose from. And unless we are on these sites, we don’t really know what they are exposed to. I was shocked to see how easy it is for our kids to see inappropriate photos online.
Now, to a degree, this is not Facebook’s fault. Anyone can upload a bumper sticker and it may be a day or two before Facebook becomes aware of inappropriate stickers and take them down. Facebook also allows you to report inappropriate stickers if you see something before they do.
Now, some parents may just think the solution to this would be to keep them off the site altogether. And though we may be tempted, do we really want to keep our kids in a closet? Okay, perhaps ;-), but is it really HEALTHY to keep them in a closet? One of the most difficult challenges in life can be finding that “democratic” balance. The most successful stories I’ve come across are those parents who have good communication with their kids and also participate in Internet monitoring.
When your child or teenager is given the opportunity to use this, or any other social networking site, it may be a good idea to have a conversation with them about the photos. I would suggest monitoring the photos they post as well as monitor their friends’ photos. If there is something you find that could be a little risque or something you are not comfortable with, have your child take it down. This could also apply to the bumper stickers.
I find sometimes that it is better to hang closer to the ‘safe’ side versus the ‘it’s harmless’ side. The Internet is definitely a dangerous place, but at the same time, it is also a world of knowledge. I can’t stress how important it is to educate our kids on Internet safety.
Have you ever had to have any conversations with your kids about photos? Please share them.
Adolescent Web Awareness Requires Education (AWARE) Act
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) and Congressman John Culberson (R-TX) are sponsoring the Adolescent Web Awareness Requires Education Act (AWARE Act). This bipartisan legislation would provide funding to programs that educate children on Internet safety, behavior, and security. I couldn't agree more with Congressman Culberson's comments on the underlying premise of the act:
"The way to meet the challenges and opportunities the Internet presents isn't to deny our children access to this great resource but to empower them to use it wisely. Just as we make sure our children know not to talk to strangers, not to bully kids on the playground, and not to provide personal information, we have the same responsibility to teach them to apply these values online."
So, what are the details? The bill, if approved, would establish funding for grants made available to state and local education agencies and non-profit organizations. These grants will be competitively awarded for programs that promote Internet safety for children. A proposed $125 million in grants over five years would be administered jointly by the Departments of Justice and of Education.
This means that, instead of barring children from the potential hazards of the Internet, we will encourage education providers to prepare children to interact in the online world safely--just as you would in the offline world. The Internet is a phenomenal tool, but it comes with great dangers, not unlike a bicycle, a car, or an ordinary can of hairspray. Let's teach our kids to use it safely.
To show your support for the AWARE Act, you can learn more at Congresswoman Schultz's and Congressman Culberson's websites:
Have you ever heard of the term “cyberbullying?” If you have heard of this term, have you ever wondered whether your child may be either a victim or a bully him/herself? Perhaps they don’t even know what it means.Perhaps you don't. And that’s okay. Let me give you an example.
Do you remember the story of the Megan Meier, the 13-year old from Dardenne Prairie, MO who committed suicide over an online hoax? Meier suffered from depression and a mild case of ADD, according to the story reported on FoxNews.com. Megan had become friends with a boy named Josh through the social networking site, Myspace. She had an online relationship with Josh for over a month before he abruptly cut off their friendship by saying “I don’t know if I want to be friends with you anymore because I heard you are not nice to your friends.” She killed herself the next day. The shocker was that the boy never existed. He was a made-up character that a neighborhood family invented and one of the members included one of Megan’s old friends.
Although this is an extreme case, cyberbulling is something that occurs on a daily basis. According to Stopcyberbulling.org, “Cyberbullying" is when a child, preteen or teen is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child, preteen or teen using the Internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile phones. It has to have a minor on both sides, or at least have been instigated by a minor against another minor. Once adults become involved, it is plain and simple cyber-harassment or cyberstalking. Adult cyber-harassment or cyberstalking is NEVER called cyberbullying.
Were you ever bullied in school? I was. I think it could be safe to say that most schools have a couple of bigger and meaner kids who, for whatever reason, think it’s okay to bully. When I was in school, I would get mean notes or dirty looks. So, it makes sense that this would happen by the same types of bullies, only online. Can we completely protect our children from this? I don’t think we can. What we CAN do however, is be aware that cyberbullying exists, know what it means, and know what we could perhaps look out for. We can educate our kids and report the behavior to the local school or authorities. We can also monitor our children’s online activity through McGruff Safeguard.
No parent wants to believe their kids are affected or an initiator of cyberbullying. Perhaps with some conversation and monitoring, we can all help with education of internet safety. If you have children who spend time online, I encourage you to sit down with them and have a conversation about cyberbullying. Please share your thoughts, opinions, or experiences with children and cyberbullying.