I was 12-years-old and a geek. The year was 1990 and the internet barely existed. Internet safety? What was that.
Dial Up Modem
My parents had bartered for a computer and had given it to me and my brother to play on. I was in heaven (I told you I was a geek). Anyways, I read – studied and learned what the little phone jack was on the back of the computer. It was a modem. 1200 bauds of well connection to somewhere.
BBS and Child Predators
Both of my parents were clueless what this machine could do. They just knew it kept me busy. The friend that they had received it from had given me a magazine after I expressed interest in learning more about the computer. The magazine had phone numbers in it. After hours of experimenting – I finally figured out how to connect to a BBS.
A BBS predates the online community. BBS stands for Bulletin Board System. It was NOTHING fancy, black and white text – but you could connect and chat with other people! Locally! Except, these people were mostly old – with the exception of their kids which they showed how to get on. So low and behold in 1990 I was online with a few people my age.
The discussions were dumb. I was more fascinated with the fact that there was this whole world that was yet to be explored.
Fast forward to the summer. My brother and I are home alone.
The door bell rings.
Mam, are you Molly?
Can I speak with your mother?
She’s not here.
Where can I find her?
I point them in the direction of my parent’s office. They worked a block from the house.
Weird. How did they know MY NAME?
*phone rings* “Molly, this is mom. You and your brother need to get down here right now. Get on your bike, pedal fast.”
My brother and I ride our bike down to my mom’s office. The FBI agents are there next to the computer and I’m confused.
Come to find out – a man on the BBS was a convicted child molester. He had been accused of molesting a child that was on that BBS and the FBI was wanting to make sure that we were safe and that we hadn’t been approached.
Scary, I knew of the guy. He hung out in the “kids” chat. I just thought he was a parent. And this is still engraved in my head 20 years later.
My brother was only 9 at the time this whole thing went down. What had happened is that since I wasn’t a paying member, I only got so much time online a day. So BRILLIANT ME set my innocent little brother up an account. When the FBI raided the BBS, they came across both of our names.
CRAZY. Now take it that was 20 years ago. A lot has happened and nearly every kid is online now a days. But the question remains – what can you do to pre-warn your children so if a situation arises they know how to react and respond.
Tips from FBI
Check out these tips from the FBI:
What Can You Do To Minimize The Chances Of An On-line Exploiter Victimizing Your Child?
- Communicate, and talk to your child about sexual victimization and potential on-line danger.
- Spend time with your children on-line. Have them teach you about their favorite on-line destinations.
- Keep the computer in a common room in the house, not in your child’s bedroom. It is much more difficult for a computer-sex offender to communicate with a child when the computer screen is visible to a parent or another member of the household.
- Utilize parental controls provided by your service provider and/or blocking software. While electronic chat can be a great place for children to make new friends and discuss various topics of interest, it is also prowled by computer-sex offenders. Use of chat rooms, in particular, should be heavily monitored. While parents should utilize these mechanisms, they should not totally rely on them.
- Always maintain access to your child’s on-line account and randomly check his/her e-mail. Be aware that your child could be contacted through the U.S. Mail. Be up front with your child about your access and reasons why.
- Teach your child the responsible use of the resources on-line. There is much more to the on-line experience than chat rooms.
- Find out what computer safeguards are utilized by your child’s school, the public library, and at the homes of your child’s friends. These are all places, outside your normal supervision, where your child could encounter an on-line predator.
- Understand, even if your child was a willing participant in any form of sexual exploitation, that he/she is not at fault and is the victim. The offender always bears the complete responsibility for his or her actions.
- Instruct your children:
- to never arrange a face-to-face meeting with someone they met on- line;
- to never upload (post) pictures of themselves onto the Internet or on-line service to people they do not personally know;
- to never give out identifying information such as their name, home address, school name, or telephone number;
- to never download pictures from an unknown source, as there is a good chance there could be sexually explicit images;
- to never respond to messages or bulletin board postings that are suggestive, obscene, belligerent, or harassing;
- that whatever they are told on-line may or may not be true.