Thursday, January 31, 2013

Getting a Grip

The internet has been termed today’s “wild west” where anything goes. In the days of Wild Bill and the James brothers, the bad boys rode into town in a cloud of dust with guns blazing. Everyone knew who they were and was aware of their intentions and activity. Today’s bad boys (and girls) can sit at home in the comfort and anonymity of their bedrooms and do far more damage than any gun-toting savage of yesterday. Brandishing keyboards and cameras instead of guns, they swagger through cyberspace like a law unto themselves, savaging the innocence of children through child pornography, stalking and preying on naive young people.

But not so fast, Kemo Sabe. Just as the wild west was tamed and is now a pleasant place where families can travel in peace, changes are being made online. Heroes of today are making meaningful strides in protecting our young people.

Last month, it was announced that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and European Union Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström would launch a global alliance targeting online child sexual abuse. With so many cross-border police operations that have brought down international pedophile networks, a network of agencies dealing with trafficking and abuse issues is gaining strength and functionality. With experience cracking criminal networks like Dreamboard, a members-only online bulletin board to promote pedophilia and encourage sexual abuse of very young children, the good guys are becoming more and more sophisticated in their understanding of how these groups work and how to dismantle them.

In December, officials from 27 EU member nations and officials from 22 countries outside the EU, including the United States, participated in a ministerial conference to address the issues. At the core of their discussions is a commitment to caring for victims, enhancing efforts to prosecute offenders, increasing children’s awareness of online risks and reducing the availability of child abuse material online.

The protection of children is moving ahead and making headway.

While it’s difficult to stomach the reasoning behind all the previously confidential documents created by the Boy Scouts, the fact that they are in existence and have been made public gives the good guys deeper insight into the minds and workings of predators. Increased public awareness of how child predators operate and increased boldness of victims in speaking out may be helping to reduce child sex abuse. While the news was full of stories about institutions like Penn State, the Boy Scouts and the BBC last year, the stories had a positive side in that they all concerned people being caught or exposed or groups and organizations changing policies towards offenders.

Things are changing. We’re starting to get a grip. Predators should be very worried because the days of the wild west internet are changing. This does not mean we can let down our guard. Quite the contrary. It means our efforts are making more of a difference. It’s time to take heart and work harder to protect our kids.

© Diane Roblin-Lee   Jan. 30/13

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Problem With Kids...

The problem with kids is that – well – they’re kids.

Kids don’t have very many years under their belts. They haven’t lived on this planet long enough to spot a manipulator or know how to navigate a tricky situation. Those who live in homes where they can trust the adults around them, tend to think all adults can be trusted and have their best interests at heart. They trust that the person on the other end of their internet chat conversation is who they portray themselves to be.

We tell kids: “Mind your manners. Speak respectfully to Mr. Brown. Do what you’re told. Don’t ask questions.”

And so life can be very confusing for a child. That’s why they need us. Children are so vulnerable and depend on us to keep them safe. That’s what adults are supposed to do.

I was one of those naive kids – one of the ones who lived in such a safe home that it never occurred to me that someone might want to harm me sexually. I trusted people. And that was good – then – but maybe that’s why, years later, when one of my children was being molested by a family member, it never occurred to me such a thing could be happening and that that could be the root of the problems my precious child was experiencing.

These days, we have to put any naivitee aside and sharpen our antennae to know what’s happening with the children around us. Rather than counting on kids to recognize possible danger, we have to be aware of the fact that they’re “just kids” and not all of them have the life experiences to make them adequately guarded in their activities and conversations. When they don’t know what might happen as a result of telling about abuse, their tendency is to remain silent in fear of consequences. We need to be able to recognize the withdrawn silence of a child and encourage freedom of conversation. Part of our job description as adults is to keep a watchful eye over the young ones around us.

Last week, an international operation investigating child pornography and sexual abuse culminated in the arrest of 245 suspects. “Operation Sunflower” identified 123 victims of child exploitation. Forty-four of the victims were living with their alleged abusers and were removed from their homes.

When I think of 44 kids being victimized in their own homes, it makes my blood run cold. How many people were there in the circles surrounding those children who missed the signs of what was happening? Teachers, doctors, siblings, parents, neighbours, aunts, uncles, community workers.... When I think of what those little ones endured in their own homes, I weep. They needed safe homes where they could just be naive little kids.

Several of the children rescued through Operation Sunflower were very young. Five were under the age of three. One of the reasons this trend is increasing is that predators think they’re less likely to be able to “tell.” Nine of the children were between the ages of four and six.

The work of Plan to Protect is critical. By helping to train the adults who surround a child to make sure the world is a safe place for little ones, we are changing lives – individuals, families and communities.

Nothing is more basic that the right of a kid to “be a kid.”

© Diane Roblin-Lee, Jan. 15/13