“Kiss me”, “Touch me”, “Feel me”, “Rape me” – the invitations flashed across the photo of a scantily clad young woman on one of the most popular teen Web hangouts in the world – MySpace.com.
Techno-hussies and innocent children just enjoying the latest method to socialize with their friends are falling victim because they are sharing very personal, often provocative and trashy information on MySpace.com, which is quickly becoming a sexual predator’s playground.
So rampant are the reports and allegations linking sex-crimes and even murder to activity on MySpace that producers at “America’s Most Wanted” are looking into the connection. But parents shouldn’t need any more evidence or excuses – you’ve got to talk with your kids about online safety, and take measures to protect them. A sampling of the current cases under investigation should be enough to take decisive action today:
In February, a 14-year-old New Jersey girl was found dead in a dumpster after arranging a meeting with a stranger on MySpace.
A 15-year-old California girl was abducted in December and found murdered in January. Her MySpace page included personal contact information and lots of activity.
Hartford, Conn., officials are investigating eight sexual assault cases after teenage girls met men on MySpace.
In Lafayette, La., four teen girls were sexually assaulted by a local pervert who found them on MySpace.
In another Louisiana case, a predator lay in wait for a teen girl in the parking lot of her place of employment, which he had found on her profile page.
Kids and adults alike have got to understand that their information on MySpace can viewed around the world by anyone at anytime, but the danger lies in the fact that although the Web is “world wide,” it is also very local.
Here’s what I mean: I typed in my zip code on MySpace, and in seconds up popped 75 pages, with 40 entries each, of 18 to 30-year-old single women who said they are seeking a relationship – and every one of them lives in my zip code. It’s important to note that I only searched for entries with photographs – and boy, did I get photographs – one was just of a girl’s breasts; most were provocative; and virtually everyone of them appeared to be between 12 to 25 years old. (MySpace claims only those 14 and older can use the site, but all a user has to do is lie about their age).
I wanted to get a taste of the potential immediate threats, so I clicked on the Justice Department’s website, which provides detailed information on registered sex offenders (i.e., those who have already been caught, convicted and released back into the public – in other words, only those we know about) and entered local zip codes. The results were more than disturbing: Up popped the names and faces of 10 convicts who live in my neighborhood, and scores who live in my town. Now you realize how easy it is for perverts, convicted or not, to find your child.
It’s high time we adults realize that although the world has changed, many of the tried and true methods of protecting our kids have not. Tips like: Don’t talk to strangers (even if they are online) and don’t ever give out personal information. But we’ve got to go much further. It’s not enough to remind our kids to watch out for the guy in the dark trench coat lurking on the edge of the school playground, we’ve got to realize that the guy in trench coat is now in our sons’ and daughters’ bedrooms – live and personal – through the unfiltered Internet.
The good news is that the pervert and all his ugly friends and addictive pornographic perversions can easily be locked out of your home in just a few minutes by obtaining a reliable Internet filter. There are many great filters, but I use the one from BSafe.com because it’s inexpensive (about $50 a year) and constantly updated to keep up with the ever-clever predators who cyber-stalk our kids. It also blocks out sites like MySpace so it doesn’t have to become an issue in your home.
But beware: One of the dangers of a site like MySpace is that your kids’ friends can post your child’s personal photo and information without permission. For more great tips on how to protect your kids online, visit Web Wise Kids, an organization on whose board I’m proud to serve.
These are heavy, difficult issues to talk about, but every time I give a speech about our modern toxic culture, I am inundated with questions from desperate parents who awake from their techno-stupor and realize that active parenting is more important today than perhaps any time in our nation’s history.