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Kids surfing Net without a net?
Local forum reveals some parents
naiveté of Internet.
There werent any audible gasps or visibly dropped jaws, but a recent video presentation at an Internet safety forum revealed a disturbing sequence of events.
In an Internet chat room, a little white cursor clicked away on a young teens screen name and user profile, compiling bits and pieces of information. After plugging some of the information into an Internet search engine, the little cursor had discovered the teens real name, that of her brother and parents, the location of her school and her home address.
The video was time-lapsed, but in reality it didnt take that long for the information to be found.
In all, about 20 minutes.
The video was part of a presentation given recently by Seattle Police Detective Garry Jackson at Central Kitsap High School. Jackson has been heading up Seattles Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force since January.
It was disturbing, to be sure, but perhaps even more disturbing were the questions raised by parents.
One asked if it was illegal to distribute pornography on the Net.
Another followed up by asking if homosexual pornography was illegal.
Several questioned how social networking sites like MySpace work.
For the record, yes, porn is legal, so long as it doesnt cross the line into child pornography. And for those who didnt know, MySpace pages are a dime a dozen and theres not much stopping kids from lying about their age to meet the 14-year-old minimum to join the site.
I think parents dont realize what their kids are doing, said Leah Meadows, co-president of the Central Kitsap Junior High School PTSA group that brought Jackson in for the presentation.
Likewise, many kids often dont realize what friends they meet on the Net are doing, what their intentions are or who they really are.
If our kids can lie online to get something they want (like a MySpace page) ... what are the chances someone else is lying to them? Jackson said.
Patrolling the Net in Kitsap County
The Kitsap County Sheriffs Office doesnt distinguish between offenses committed online, over the phone or in person for the crime of communicating with a minor for immoral purposes. Since 2000, however, there have been 106 complaints pertaining to that offense within the Kitsap Sheriffs jurisdiction not counting local jurisdictions, like Bremerton or Bainbridge Island.
While there arent any official numbers to argue the severity of Internet crimes against children in the county, the sheriffs office receives complaints at least once a week, said Deputy Scott Wilson, spokesman for the Kitsap County Sheriffs Office.
Its definitely a concern, he said. Youll get a lot of people out there passing themselves off as the age and gender of their victims when in fact theyre a sexual predator.
To combat the situation, the sheriffs office has employed detectives specifically to investigate Internet crimes and has gone outside the agency for help with offenders. The sheriffs office also hosts periodic talks at local schools to inform students, teachers and parents on the potential dangers of surfing the Web.
Keeping an i on student surfing
The Central Kitsap School District also has thrown its hat into the Internet safety education ring by offering education through a non-profit organization called i-SAFE.
Adopted about three years ago, i-SAFEs curriculum is provided free of charge through the U.S. Department of Justices Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
We thought that it did a pretty good job of explaining the Internet as a cyber community, CKSD Coordinator of Instructional Technology David Guertin said.
The curriculum consists of a series of online videos that purport to train educators in Internet safety and pass that information along to students.
Our expectation is that its being used at all the schools, Guertin said. So I guess I could say its required, yes.
The district also employs Internet filters to block access to sites that feature objectionable content, such as pornography, hate speech, weapons making and more.
The curriculum is a step up from what the district formerly provided, which was to say, next to nothing, but it may still be leaving a bit to be desired.
I think we have a definite lack on that part, Meadows said of Internet safety education. I know they (CKSD) have a problem with it. Some cyber-bullying has gone on at the junior high (CKJH).
Guertin wouldnt go so far as to criticize the material or his department, but he did admit that more education would be better.
I think were always looking for opportunities, but with so much on our plates (its hard to do), he said.
Another area the district could be lacking in is parent education. Right now, parents may receive bits of information on i-SAFE at parent nights and during visits with teachers, but theres no formal education seminar or class for parents to attend.
I think a lot of parents are looking for that kind of information, Guertin said.
crusade to get parents more involved
That could change as Meadows and her colleagues look to increase student and parent awareness of Internet dangers. Meadows PTSA talked with Jackson soon after the forum and is looking into bringing another forum to CKHS sometime in the fall.
It was kind of like a pilot (for the PTSA), she said. I think its very needed in this day and age.
The recent forum was directed mainly at parents and older students middle- and high school-aged due to the content of the presentation.
But Meadows stressed that Internet safety and education is something that everyone can benefit from.
We really want to push it, too, especially in the elementaries, she said.