It is every parent’s worst nightmare – discovering the boy with whom their young daughter has been corresponding via computer is actually a middle-aged pervert.
It happens, probably more often than anyone knows.
Recently a 35-year-old man in Holland was arrested and charged in connection with the tragic death of a British Columbia girl, Amanda Todd. The video she made telling how she had been relentlessly cyber-bullied is heart-breaking.
At the time of her death, news stories told how the girl, then a Grade 7 student, had been persuaded to show her bare breasts on webcam to the man, and he used the images to try to blackmail her into doing more. The blackmail apparently consisted of threatening to post the images to her friends and family, which he did. Unable to escape his vicious hounding even by changing schools, she ended up taking her own life in 2012.
The news stories indicate the man victimized a number of other children in several countries, as well as adult men, by pretending to be a boy and asking his victims to perform sex acts on webcam.
The internet makes it easy for people to create fake identities. A few keystrokes can add six inches of height, subtract 50 pounds, and even change one’s nationality, age and/or gender. It is equally simple to use those fake internet identities to commit crimes.
Most adults are aware that the charming young lady seeking friendship in a chat room is probably a weasely little con man looking for cash. Most adults might press the “friend” button, but know the difference between a computer relationship and a real one. The latter has a face-to-face component and has stood the test of time, while the former is nothing more than a few lines of text – entertaining, perhaps even the start of a real friendship, but nothing on which to pin dreams or forward money.
Children are different. They can be “best friends” with the kid they played with in the park yesterday for 10 minutes, or encountered via computer, and they tend to believe people are who they say they are.
A girl might pour out her heart online to the boyfriend she knows only from a teen chat room, and sneer when Mom or Dad tells her the boy is probably some middle-aged Dorito-eating cellar-dweller with a perverse agenda. Even if Dad is right, she feels safe because the boy does not know her real name or where she lives. It is not only perverts who hide behind the dubious anonymity offered by the internet.
Dubious, indeed. Amanda Todd’s stalker was able to discover her name and address with little trouble. And although it took police over a year, they were able to find him. There are two points to be made. The first is parents need to know what their kids are doing on the computer. Not all the images recorded on webcams are going to doting grandmas. Perhaps our children should be taught to behave as if they were.
This is not blaming the victim – in the case of a naïve child being coerced by a manipulative adult predator, the adult is to blame every time. We need to protect our children from monsters who lurk online every way we can, including teaching children to be wary of any request from a stranger – which is what people they have never met in person are.
The second and more important point is the anonymity of the internet has run its course. The bullies, the con artists, the pornographers who prey on children, have been hiding out in the modern day Wild West far too long. It is time they got booted out of Dodge.
As with any new environment, law enforcement officers and legislators were slow to get a handle on computer technology and the internet. However, we have a modern generation of computer-savvy police officers who are eager and able to take on the cyber-scum who run afoul of the law, unmask them and bring them to justice.
The gunslingers who once terrorized the Wild West had to holster their six guns or end up in Boot Hill. Internet monsters will meet a similar fate – sadly, too late for Amanda Todd, but perhaps in time to prevent some other sweet child from being victimized.
Special to The Banner