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Internet's Dark Side Presents Perils for the Young

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 21, 2001 – Parents should realize that the information-rich Internet has a "dark side" that includes pedophiles who surf the Web for potential victims, DoD law enforcement officials say.

Pornography sites, especially those featuring children and teens, and the online presence of pedophiles seeking computer chats -- and meetings -- with children, are growing problems on the World Wide Web, said Naval Criminal Investigative Service Special Agent Jeanmarie Sentell, program manager for the Safekids initiative. The Safekids program Web site is at www.ncis.navy.mil/Safekids/home.htm.

Safekids educates parents and children about the dangers that can lurk on the Web, said Sentell, who has 17 years of crime-fighting experience, including felony cases involving child sexual abuse.

During an informal poll taken last year of some NCIS employees' children ages 6 to 15, several said they had been solicited, or at least contacted online in some way that felt uncomfortable, Sentell said.

"A lot of them had not reported it to their parents," she added. "I think that when parents sit down with their children and ask, 'Have you seen or experienced this on the Internet?' they are going to find some shocking answers."

Discussing the good and bad aspects of the Internet is a parental responsibility, Sentell said. While children and teens are taught how to obtain information for school projects online, she noted, few parents seem inclined to instruct their children to be careful while surfing the Web, or bother to monitor the Web sites or chat rooms their children use.

Children and teen-agers can intentionally or inadvertently provide their names, home addresses, phone numbers and schools to strangers during online chats, Sentell said. Such behavior may "open the doorway for any predator that may be sitting out there," she emphasized.

"They think that they're just exchanging information with somebody across the country, just being friendly," she added. "They don't realize that it could possibly not be a 15-year-old ... they're talking to."

"There is a percentage of criminals and felons out there on the Internet and they are more anonymous than if they were out in public," Sentell's colleague, NCIS Special Agent Jim Dervin, pointed out. He said he often asks children and teens why they provide their names, addresses and other personal information to strangers on the Internet when they wouldn't think of doing that in public.

"I always tell parents ... if you want to see how bad it is sometimes, get on a regular Internet chat site and just say you're a 13- or 14-year-old girl and watch how many people 'hit' on you," he concluded.

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Related Sites:
WWW.huh?: You Are the First Line of Defense, www.defenselink.mil/news/Jun2001/n06252001_200106252.html.

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