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Protecting our children

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Sex offenders 'hide' in rural communities

Sex offender list and pictures inside Page 3 of The South Missourian News

According to the Missouri Highway Patrol Sex Offender Registry there are 26 sex offenders living in Oregon County. These 26 people are required to register because of offenses that include rape, child sexual abuse and possessing child pornography. These are people who are considered a high risk to repeat these offenses against a child.

Child sexual abuse often goes unreported because of the fear instilled in the victim by the abuser. Often times they use threats of retaliation and shame for the act the abuser says was all their fault.

According to the Department of Justice one in four girls and one in six boys is sexually abused before the age of 18. And, nearly 70 percent of all reported sexual assaults occur to children under the age of 17.

Children are taught to beware of predators lurking in alleys, parks and even school yards. Not talking to strangers, not accepting rides from a stranger, and not accepting candy from a stranger are still good basic instructions for children, but nearly 80 percent of child abuse cases involve a family member, close friend and or even a teacher.

In today's high tech society a different type of predator has emerged and is being allowed into homes across America -- Cyber Perverts. This phenomenon is unique to the 21st Century. Parents have been warned to monitor a child's online activity by putting the home computer in the living room. This is a good start, according to officials, but today's children have access to cell phones, PDAs, wireless laptops and even libraries that offer easy Internet access which parents find difficult to monitor.

Twenty years ago, the production and distribution of child pornography in the USA had nearly been eradicated. With the advent of the World Wide Web child porn has become an even bigger business with the easiest access ever. The Internet has become the sexual predator's new playground.

Chat rooms which offer anonymity to pedophiles are among the most dangerous places a child can go. Often times a child meets a new "friend" on the Internet who seems to understand the pain and obstacles of growing up a little different from everyone else. This child may be lonely and desperate for a "friend" that understands and cares. Day after day of chatting turns a stranger they have never met into a "friend" they believe they know well. This is when the cyber predator can begin to lure their next victim into their controlled setting.

In 1998, Tom Martino posted a story on troubleshooter.com about a 15-year-old Massachusetts girl.

He says that the girl began her terrible experience in an Internet chat room when she began an e-mail relationship with a computer technician in Long Island.

The two became "friends" and she ran away from her home to meet him in New York. When she arrived there, the predator and a woman picked the young girl up at a mall.

The predator handcuffed and molested the girl in the vehicle, then took her to a motel where she was drugged and sexually assaulted by both adults.

She was taken to the woman's home in Long Island and was repeatedly abused by several adults. She finally escaped when left alone one day.

Parents have to be aware of Internet dangers and take measures to educate their children.

Some warning signs that may mean your child is at risk on-line are listed on the KlassKids Foundation Web page at www.klaaskids.org. They include:

* Your child spends large amounts of time on-line, especially in the evening. While offenders are on-line around the clock, most work during the day and spend their evenings on-line trying to locate and lure children or look for pornography.

* You find pornography on your child's computer. Child pornography is often used by predators to show victims that sex between a child and an adult is "normal."

* Your child receives phone calls from men you don't know or is making calls, sometimes long distance, to numbers you don't recognize. Most computer-sex offenders want to talk to children on the phone. Even if a child is unwilling to give out their home phone number, the predator will give out theirs. With caller ID, a predator can easily obtain the child's phone number.

* Your child receives mail, gifts or packages from someone you don't know. It is common for predators to send letters, photographs and gifts to their potential victims.

* Your child turns the computer monitor off or quickly changes the screen when you come into the room.

* Your child becomes withdrawn from the family. Predators work very hard to drive a wedge between a child and their family by exploiting any minor problems at home. This helps the predator to become the child's trusted friend who understands what the child is going through.

* Your child is using an on-line account belonging to someone else. Even if you don't have Internet service in your home, your child can meet a predator while on-line at a friends house or through many of the high-tech gadgets available today.

To help protect your child from becoming a victim talk openly with your child about the dangers that can be found on the Internet. The more you talk with your child the easier it will be for your child to tell you about things that may be happening in their life.

Open communication and education are the best tools a parent has to prevent a child from becoming a predator's victim. Be aware if a sexual offender is living near you and always keep a watchful eye on that offender. Contact your local law enforcement officials if an offender moves from his registered location or if you become concerned about unusual activity.

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