ALERT’s ICE teams investigate the sexual exploitation of children through the Internet and work to reduce harm through public education and prevention. Teaching youth how to safely navigate and use the Internet is invaluable in protecting them from sexual predators.
Here you’ll find some helpful information, including signs a child might be at risk and tips on how to safeguard your kids. But remember – if you know of a child who is in immediate danger or at risk of being sexually exploited, call 911 or your local police.
Learn more about a particular topic by selecting one of the following options:
Child pornography is a permanent record of the sexual abuse of a child. It can be an image, an audio recording, a video, a drawing or a story about the sexual assault of a child. It is created deliberately and can be shared easily through the Internet, online platforms and portable technology devices. Some offenders primarily collect and trade child pornography, while others seek direct meetings with children they have met online.
Internet luring has become a growing concern around the world in recent years. Youth often receive unwanted sexual comments online, and many are asked by someone they know only online to meet in person. Perpetrators often gradually seduce their victims through the use of attention, affection, kindness and even gifts. In 2002, the Canadian Criminal Code was amended to include a new Internet luring offence, which makes it illegal to communicate with anyone under the age of 18 years for the purpose of committing a sexual offence.
Instant Messaging/Chat Rooms
Instant messages are real-time text conversations. After downloading instant messenger software, users maintain lists of “buddies/friends” and are notified when their contacts are online. Chat rooms offer real-time text conversations between several users on various topics.
Social Networking Websites and Mobile Social Networks
These websites allow users to create personalized profiles and incorporate aspects of chat rooms, instant messaging and file sharing programs. These sites are particularly attractive to perpetrators because they potentially open up the electronic door to a large number of children. Young users can protect themselves by restricting access to personal profiles and not disclosing personal information.
A video gaming console is an interactive computer or electronic device that uses a television monitor to display the video game, like an X-box or Playstation. It can connect to the Internet so several players can interact online in real-time, but perpetrators can also use these systems to contact children. Make sure your child knows to ask for permission before chatting with other online gamers.
Virtual worlds are online, multi-player games where people take on a virtual identity. A Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game is a type of online game where a large number of players interact with one another in a virtual world, such as World of Warcraft. Virtual worlds can serve as a forum for people who wish to meet others for sexual purposes. Child sex offenders may find these virtual worlds attractive because they provide an avenue for gaining access to child sexual abuse images.
Find answers to these questions:
Is my child at risk?
There are many signs parents can be on the lookout for that may indicate their child may be at risk, including a child who:
- spends hours on the computer;
- closes windows on their computer when you enter the room;
- refuses to say who they are talking to;
- is secretive about Internet activities;
- keeps unexplained pictures on the computer;
- receives mail, gifts or packages from someone you don’t know;
- makes unexplained long-distance telephone calls
- becomes withdrawn from the family; and
- experiences behavioural changes.
How can kids and teens stay safe online?
- Never give out your real name, age, address, phone number or any other information like passwords or the location of your school to a stranger online.
- Use a nickname and never tell people your real name.
- Pick a password that is hard for others to guess and never share it with anyone except your parents.
- Remember that people you meet online may not be who they say they are.
- If someone you don’t know approaches you or makes you feel uncomfortable online, tell your parents and do not respond to them.
- Always check with your parents before entering a chat room and tell your parents about your online friends.
- Don’t send a photo of yourself online and if someone asks for a photo of you or sends you a photo, notify your parents or a teacher.
- Never agree to meet someone in person that you have met online. Tell your parents if someone has asked to meet you. If your parents agree that you can meet someone you have met online, make sure you arrange a meeting in public with your parents there.
- Do not open email attachments from unknown senders.
- Never respond to spam or junk mail.
- Remember that nothing you write on the web or email is completely private.
- Think carefully about where you put your webcam — do not put it in a location that would give away personal information about you or your family.
- Always unplug or cover your webcam when it is not in use.
- Don’t enter contests, or buy or accept gifts without first discussing it with your parents.
How can parents help protect their kids?
- Place computers in a high-traffic area of your home so you can monitor your child’s Internet use.
- Teach children how to exit a website quickly and that they should discuss things they see or read that make them uncomfortable.
- Get to know your child’s online friends like you would any other friend.
- Remind your kids to behave online as they would in public. Explain to them they should never write anything in an email that they would not want the world to read.
- Set up rules for your child. Agree when and for how long they can engage in online activity, as well as what sites they are allowed to visit.
- Maintain open lines of communication with your child regarding their Internet use. Ask them where they go and what they do online, and get them to show you.
- Get to know chat room and web-related slang. Ask your child to explain it to you.
- Check to make sure your child’s instant messaging program is set up so no one can speak to him/her without permission.
- Remind your children that everything they read online may not be true. An offer that seems “too good to be true” likely is.
- Encourage your children to use the telephone to communicate with friends.
- Pay attention to your child’s behaviour.
- Assist with the creation of your child’s online profiles.
- When signing up for games, provide a family or parental email address rather than your child’s.
- Find out what computer safeguards are used at your child’s school, public library or friends’ houses. Consider all the places where your child could go online.
- Set an example for your children by following the rules you set out for them. Be careful of what personal information you give out and what files you download.