Kids in Germany learn about cyberpredators
April 19, 2008
STUTTGART, Germany — Emily Szabo didn’t realize that Internet predators would travel from state to state just to track down victims.
Or that child pornography had been around for a long time.
“I thought it was just more recently, that it started with the Internet,” the 15-year-old said.
Emily and about 50 ninth-graders got a lesson Friday in cyberprowling during a presentation at Patch High School by Special Agent Donald Pelton of the Stuttgart Criminal Investigation Command office.
“Guess what these predators speak? Your language,” Pelton told the students. “They sit in these chat rooms and watch and study and learn and listen.”
Then they try to act like 15-year-olds, he said.
Like a lot of young people, Emily is more tech-wise than her parents. They gave her the OK to have a computer in her room because she figured out how to hook it up when they couldn’t.
But Emily’s smart about using the Internet. Surfing the Net for homework, checking out games and tending to her MySpace page is the extent of her online activity. Her advice?
“Not to trust faceless people,” Emily said. “Unless you get confirmation or they are people you know, I wouldn’t trust them.”
Pelton’s slide show portrayed some of the sleazy cyberworld that lurks online.
Preteen chat rooms with “youngsters” using sex-themed nicknames, reverse technology that predators use to trace addresses and methods they use to gain trust were among his topics.
“Shouldn’t we be more safe because we’re on a military installation?” one boy asked.
You are, Pelton replied, but that doesn’t make it foolproof. Military members, he said, get busted for child pornography, too.
A Google search for “preteen chat rooms” turned up 10,600 hits. It was the type of search a predator would perform to find potential victims, he said.
“It can happen here,” Pelton told the class. “Be aware of who you are talking to on the Internet.”
Thirteen-year-old George Welton said he uses the Internet to help him with homework as well as keep up on sports news. After the presentation, he said he had learned a few things.
“The things that people would do to get to others is scary,” he said.
Ninth-graders are impressionable, according to school principal Susan Page. They’re older than mere children but younger than young adults. Pelton’s presentation was an asset for her students, she said.
“Because they don’t quite know where they fit in, it’s easy to sway them with wrong choices and wrong behavior,” Page said. “We’re here to give them the right information so, hopefully, they are making the right choices.
“If we didn’t take advantage of the resources in this community, I feel we’d really be shortchanging these kids.”