UNLOCKING PREDATORS’ SECRETS
Stephanie Good became determined to stop sexual predators from preying on children. When her son was young, he was approached by a religious education teacher. The child wasn't molested, but after the teacher's arrest in 1993 for endangering the welfare of a child, Good found out he had been accused of molesting other children. He was able to plead guilty to get a more lenient sentence, spending 15 days in jail and evading the sexual predator registry. Infuriated, Good, a grandmother in her 50s adopted the persona of a young teenage girl and went online to chat rooms to find out where he lived. I didn't know anything about it at the time and I didn't get anywhere with an adult screen name, so I created the persona 'teen2hot4u', and went to a chat room. I was instantly bombarded with messages from old men, said Good. The messages contained sexually explicit talk and pictures. She called the FBI and after a few meetings in 2003, began her mission of working with law enforcement to catch online predators. Some parents think their children are too savvy to be caught in that position, but predators are good at taking the time to know their victims. It's a process called 'grooming.' They find the vulnerable point of the child, she said. parents see 'Dateline' and they say, 'Oh, my child is not going to invite a guy they don't know over,' but the reality is that they work very slowly.
TIPS FOR PARENTS
After years of portraying a child to catch sexual predators, Good has some tips for parents to keep children safe:
- Keep the computer in a central place at home; know your child's passwords.
- Teach children that a person they only know online is still a stranger.
- Learn how to navigate the Internet as well as your children to understand how kids use it.
- Use parental controls offered by Internet service providers.
- Know what's going on at the neighbors, too, because children might be online there.
- Teach your child not to give out identifying information. Still, predators are good at getting information by such seemingly innocent questions, like asking the name of the child's sports team and what position they play.
- If your child is contacted by someone who makes you or your child uncomfortable, change the screen name and password.