Sexual abuse on the internet is unfortunately very common. Surveys of children and adolescents who regularly use the internet demonstrate that one out of four children have been exposed to sexual stimuli on the internet, whether it be unwanted ads, pop-ups that lure them to sites, or predators in chat rooms and forums. Children are naturally curious and I have come across a number of children who have been lured to sex sites. These sites are overwhelming and can create anxiety, fear, and arousal in children. Some children have been coaxed into sending naked pictures of themselves over the internet and these pictures are often used in sites that cater to pedophiles.
One of the attractions of the Internet is the anonymity of the user, and this is why it can be so dangerous. A child doesn’t always know with whom he or she is interacting. Children may think they know, but unless it’s a school friend or a relative, they really can’t be sure. Often we think of pedophiles as having access to children out on the playground and other places, but because of the way the Internet works, children can actually be interacting on their home computers with adults who pretend to be children.
Child sexual exploitation occurs in every economic, social, ethnic, and religious group. With the explosion of the Internet into a powerful, worldwide medium, the danger to children, whether they are from New York or New Zealand, has drastically increased. Pedophiles and other sexual predators can use the Internet, with no precautions, to exchange names and addresses of other pedophiles and of potential child victims. Hidden behind screen names that are pseudonyms, they gather online and swap child pornography with amazing speed and in amounts beyond our wildest imagination, which excites them to molest even more.
Sexual abuse of children can occur with or without the predator meeting his victim. I once treated a young adolescent girl who met, got courted, married a man, went on a honeymoon and had sex with him, all on-line. This cunning predator took an innocent girl on a fantasy ride and left her traumatized in the end.
Therefore I encourage parents to treat the internet like they would the family television, Don’t allow children to sit for endless unmonitored hours, alone in their rooms, on their computers. Become savvy with the computer, have access to your child’s passwords, monitor their activities on the internet, install software that will automatically block unwanted sexual or violent sites, and educate your child on how to safely use the internet. Do not let young children or young teens to go into chat rooms where they can be exposed to predators who will pose as peers and try to engage children in dialogue. Remember that pedophiles regularly visit chat rooms and sites that attract children, and will try to lure children into an inline relationship.
The most serious form of internet sexual abuse occurs when a pedophile convinces a child to meet them in person. Your child or adolescent may believe that they are meeting a peer, when in actuality, they are meeting a dangerous predator. So it is up to parents to make sure that they set firm limits on their children’s exploration on the internet and never, under any circumstances, allow a child to meet someone they have chatted with on line.
And lastly, parents should model appropriate computer use for their children. Often I hear children and teens complain how much time their parent(s) spend on Facebook, Twitter, and other social sites. If you are in a habit of regularly checking these sites instead of focusing on your children, you are giving them a message that interactions on the internet are more important than real life relationships.