Staying Ahead of Online Sexual Predators

April 12, 2007 - Posted at 10:11 p.m. CDT

JONESBORO, AR -- Adult web pages have grown from 14 million to over 400 million since 1998.... and resulted in a $12 billion dollar industry. Many of these sites aggressively target children by misspelling domain names like Disneyland, Teletubbies and Britney Spears.

A study found that 90% of kids aged 8 to 16 have viewed pornography online...mostly while doing homework and while pornography maybe out there in cyberspace, it's not the only thing lurking for children online.

In 1997, Robert Hugh Farley was part of the first police unit in the U.S. to go online looking for sexual predators ...on Thursday he was in Jonesboro teaching what he's learned.

"That's always the first step in protecting your child is being aware that the possibility is out there," said Lynda Nash from the ASU Department of Social Work.

"The term local law enforcement doesn't even exist anymore because of the internet, it's the world, so you could have somebody living in a town that doesn't even have a population sign, it's so small and yet almost everybody will have the internet," said Farley.

Some of the first images of child pornography were painted by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson...who penned Alice in Wonderland under the name Lewis Carroll.  Child abuse images have developed over time through Polaroid cameras, camcorders and now computers.

"People need to be aware of the dangers.  There are advantages of the internet and cell phones and camera phones, the whole aspect of it, but also realize there are people who will misuse this.  And our children can be harmed because of this and so we need to be proactive," said Nash.

"Interact with your kids, ask your kids about the technology," advised Farley, "If you've never text messaged, ask your kids how to text message, send a text message.  If you don't know what myspace is, ask your kids because all the kids will know."

Parents should use software to block or filter pornography.  Also, keep the computer out of a child's bedroom...put it in a central living area.  Don't let your kids be online in the afternoons when your not home...police say that's when child sexual predators are looking for victims...right after school and finally, advise your kids to stay out of chat rooms.

"It's even the playing field where you could have a victim, say here in Arkansas who is potentially talking to somebody in Canada or even somebody in Cape Town, South Africa.  And that's the problem that parents aren't up on the technology," said Farley, "They perceive computers as being like televisions and don't realize they are interactive and they can be dangerous."

Senator Mark Pryor introduced legislation Wednesday designed to allow parents more control over the internet content children view in their own homes.  The bill would require adult sites to provide secure log-ins requiring age identification, clean home pages and the ability to be blocked through filtering technology.