Sunday, April 17, 2016

FBI Tales: Crimes Against Children

My FBI Citizen's Academy Session 2 started off with a joke:

"Did you hear abut the 2 antennaes* that got married?"
"The ceremony wasn't much, but the reception was excellent!"

Who knew that FBI Special Agents had such great senses of humor**.  ;) We needed the levity, because the topics of the evening, Civil Rights Violations and Crimes Against Children, were grim. This is my summary: 

The most alarming part of the section on civil rights violations was about Virtual Kidnapping:  The FBI just flat out advises Americans to stay out of Mexico.  Several of my classmates pushed them on this, but the Special Agents were adamant:  "Go somewhere else.  Anywhere else."  Apparently Mexico is the kidnapping capital of the world.  More Americans are kidnapped in Mexico than anywhere else.  And not only can you be actually kidnapped in Mexico, you can also now be "virtually" kidnapped.  This is how it works:  you get a threatening phone call telling you to go to go to another location where you find another cell phone that you're told to use.  I was a little fuzzy on this part, but apparently the "kidnappers" find some kind of leverage over you to make you do this - leave your usual surroundings, stay gone, and wait for their call.  Then they call your loved ones and tell them that they have you.  They tell your loved ones to pay up or they will kill you.  Your loved ones demand "proof of life," and so they conference you in on a 3 way call (clever kidnappers).  This is a win-win for the kidnappers because they still get all of the pay-off (the ransom) and none of the risk, because they don't physically detain or restrain you. Can you say crazy? I guess this means I'm not going to see Teotihuacan anytime soon.

As a parent of  3 daughters and the CEO of a youth serving nonprofit organization, the next topic included some of the most disturbing things I have ever heard in my life, and I read a lot.   I have had to familiarize myself with this topic over the years, but wow, I had no idea of the reach and the proliferation and the accessibility of it.  As if it weren't bad enough, it's getting so much worse. 

Crimes against Children: The FBI warns that child pornography is a fast growing epidemic. "It really is getting worse," said the agent presenting. There are as many as 1 million predators on-line in any given day.   The ages of victimized children is decreasing. The content is expanding:  Infant porn, torture videos, Dear God.  Since 1972 when the Polaroid camera was invented, it has only been getting easier and easier for pedophiles to create and distribute child pornography.  The FBI tracks child porn images all over the country and they showed us how one image can be shared and spread across the country in just 15 minutes***.  Basically, the agent's advice was this:

Never, ever, let your kids go on the Internet.  Ever.  It's just too dangerous.  Too risky.

The most creepy things I heard about - the things I just can't get out of my head -  are these:
  • The 22 year old college student posing as a 14 year old boy who convinced many 9-13 year-old girls to text him over 500 pornographic pics and videos of themselves, and their younger siblings. 
  • The social networking site for teachers who want to have sex with their students whose conversations are protected by the 1st Amendment.  OMG. 
  • The female daycare owner who sent pictures of children in her care to men for money.  OMG.  OMG.  OMG.  
  • Starkids: a group of "Boy Lovers" who have a conference ever year, at Disneyworld, to talk about how to get around law enforcement in order to sexually abuse more young boys.  This group included a decorated air force pilot, ministers, police officers and IT professionals.
  • Richard Fleming, a San Antonio "Boy Lover" who was also retired air force, married with 2 kids, a boy scout leader and a minister who had over 500 explicit images of young boys. During the FBI sting that brought him down he described the "grooming process" he used to gain the trust of the mothers of the boys he molested. 
The growing incidences of crimes against children on line is growing so fast simply because all of our kids are there.  
  • 93% of teens are on-line everyday 
  • 96% of them use social networking sites/apps
  • 75% of teens have smartphones
  • 97% are gaming
  • 725,000 of these kids were aggressively asked for sex on-line
There has been a 2000% increase in child porn over the last 15 years. "Social networking sites are the modern day phone book for child predators, and kids today as young as 9 years old are producing their own child porn to share with a 'friend'." For example, 40% of US teens use the Kik app.  Here are a few Kik social groups recently investigated by the FBI:
  • Young Torture
  • HardCorePedo
  • Young Girls Trade
  • Many others devoted to babies/toddlers

Pretty awful stuff but it helps me stay resolved to keep all the restrictions on my child's electronic devices.  It is an on-going process though because kids are very resourceful at getting around restrictions.  I am really conflicted at the advice to just completely restrict children from the Internet because it doesn't seem realistic.   Several of the stories we heard about involved kids accessing the internet at school.  Also I wouldn't want kids to turn 18 and be unleashed on the internet for the first time.  Like anything else, we need to teach them limits, restraint and appropriate, safe behavior. 

So because the FBI knows that most people will not take that advice ("Never, ever let your kids on the internet"), they provide these safety rules for parents: 
  1. Monitor, monitor, monitor your children's devices - monitoring software is cheap and effective
  2. Take possession of all electronic devices every night at bedtime
  3. Tell your kids to never use social media sites to make friends
  4. Never let them have public profiles
  5. Always activate their privacy settings
  6. Be a friend in your child's networks
  7. Know your children's phone pass-code and site passwords

*is this the correct plural of antennae?  #ohdear
**FBI agents are good looking and funny!
***except in North Dakota for some reason

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