Recently, a judge sentenced Florida-based Lucas Michael Chansler, 31, to 105 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to nine counts of producing child pornography. Chansler is now behind bars, and U.S. law enforcement officials have found 109 of his teenage victims, all of whom are girls. However, police and prosecutors say they are still seeking as many as 240 more victims in the U.S., Canada and Britain.
Investigators say Chansler would seek girls out on social media sites, gain their trust posing as a 15-year-old boy, persuade them to send compromising pictures, and then harass the girls by threatening to plaster the images all over the internet. Terrified and ashamed, most of the girls did not tell any adult about this, and the FBI has videos of girls weeping and begging Chansler to get rid of the images while he continued to bully them and make more demands online. Various news reports say many girls grew despondent and some even tried to kill themselves. Law enforcement officials now want to let these girls know they do not have to fear Chansler anymore and inform them about counseling options.
Predators like this man and there are many more who are do even worse things, like rape, torture and murder children and teens simply adore the internet. They spend hours trolling cyberspace for children and teenagers to hurt, and, frighteningly, they can be anywhere.
If ever there was a time for frank discussion with your teen, it is now. And that goes for boys as well as girls. Keeping a clear and open line of communication with teens is admittedly challenging during those scorched-earth years, but parents are the first line of defense against online predators. The news media can be useful here. For example, if you spot a news story about teen sexting, that can open the way for a good discussion. Make sure your kid knows he or she can always come to you if threats, seductive enticements or other ugliness rear their heads.
As a parent, you can benefit immensely from internet filter software that helps you watch the websites and social media communications your teen engages in. You can disclose this or not you are the parent, it is your home and, most importantly, your child. Some parents prefer full disclosure, while others just want to keep an eye on things under the radar. You can buy content filtering software that is easy to install even if you are not tech-savvy. The best of these products include porn blocker capabilities, run undetected, and can show you not only websites your child visits, but text, email, chat room and other discussions. As another precautionary measure, be certain to have top-quality antivirus software installed on your devices.
It is important to be in the loop on who is communicating with your child and what is being said, whether you are finding out privately or through talks with your teen. You must be careful, since stereotypes of online predators are often wrong they are not always grubby, greasy-haired guys you don't know.
First, not all are men. There are also female child predators with twisted sexual behaviors who can be extremely violent. Second, not all online predators are strangers. Sadly, we have all seen news accounts of outwardly respectable and normal-looking teachers, youth leaders, church officials, neighbors, and even family members convicted of heinous crimes against teens and children they know.
Technology tools and information can help you as a parent in remarkable ways. If you couple these with candid conversations with your teenager, you can do plenty to protect your teen from online predators.