Online predators and traffickers are infiltrating the internet. From social networking sites to chat rooms, online forums and other communication venues, these predators are using the vulnerability of young people to manipulate them in different ways. They become a young person's "best friend" and make them feel comfortable enough to meet them in person.
You would not believe how easily predators find out just what to say to you, as a teen, to manipulate you and set the kind of trap that teens walk right into both willingly and intentionally. Trapping someone into being trafficked is often done totally with the victim's permission. Predators know exactly what to say, because you tell them exactly what to say.
According to a Nielsen Report , "57% of teen social networkers say they looked to their online social network for advice." Young people are doing more than chatting with friends or looking up resources for school; many of them find themselves accepting friend requests or chat invitations from people they do not know.
Alicia Kozakiewicz (see her video below) was abducted by an online predator in 2002. At the time, her mom assumed what she was doing online was harmless, though Alicia was engaging in conversations of a sexual nature with someone who she thought was a fellow teen. This man was actually an online predator. One night after dinner, Alicia went to her room. When her parents called her down for dessert, she was nowhere to be found. Alicia had been abducted by the man she was talking to online. He had planned to make Alicia his sex slave. Three days later the FBI found Alicia in his townhouse.
Not all young people involved in these abductions have the happy ending that Alicia did. Some young victims will end up working in the sex trade for the person they once communicated with on the internet. Traffickers will find a way to meet up with a young person and, shortly after, force them into their sex trafficking ring. All an adult predator needs to do is create a profile on Facebook or MySpace, use a picture of a teen (boy or girl) and start chatting or friending other teens.
"40% of teens say they reply to people they don't know on the internet," according to Teen Research Unlimited. Children and teens don't realize that the internet, such a big part of their daily life, can become a dangerous part of their lives. The early teen-age years (12 to 14) are a time when adolescents have a lot of questions about life, relationships and sex. Often, teens are hesitant to ask questions from their own inner-circle of friends, because it is like admitting they still don't know the answer themselves. Teens are more likely to ask a "new friend," who is out of their inner circle, a question about relationships, love or sex. Being online becomes the place they feel most at peace with being themselves and confiding in others, which can turn into a dangerous situation the instant they decide to befriend someone they do not know online.
Online predators and traffickers find their victims by pretending to be in that same teen stage of learning -- navigating the new and often exciting issues of young adult life. It is exactly how predators gain trust of the teens online. Exploring these new emerging questions about life is how teens bond, get closer and develop trust. The teen years tend to be filled with very strong ups and downs, going from crisis to crisis. A common type of crisis predators use is the "ups-and-downs-of-relationships-between-teens-and-parents." Predators see tremendous opportunities to bond with a teen over how they both "hate their parents." Some predators even know how to do a search within websites to find certain phrases that identify easy targets. Phrases like "I hate my life,"and "I hate my mom," allow predators to skip over millions of teens to find the ones who are most vulnerable. Unfortunately, some teens have a tendency to post every emotion they go through ("I'm happy, I'm sad, I'm mad.") on social media. Teens become an "open book" to predators searching for them at the easiest time to become their new "best friend."
Predators know that helping a teen talk through a crisis of love, relationships and sex creates an incredibly strong bond of closeness. Predators pretend to be going through the same kinds of crises and provide the teens opportunities to talk each other through them.
In his book, Get Anyone To Do Anything, author and psychologist David J. Lieberman explains that people get extremely close with others when they go through shared crises together. People who were hostages together in a bank robbery become life-long friends, despite the fact that they were total strangers up until their "shared" crisis. Army buddies who grew up in different parts of the country go to a foreign land and share life and death situations. For the rest of their lives they have reunions and travel to meet up with each other well into their 70,'s 80's and 90's. This psychological tendency to become so close over crises can be something very simple too. This instant closeness and trust can happen by doing something as simple as going to an extremely scary movie together. When the movie is over, friends who go together feel extremely close, even though all they shared together was a fictional fantasy crisis. Predators understand this "shared crisis" approach all too well, and use it against unsuspecting young teens online.
Unfortunately, in today's world it is not possible to fully trust someone you have never met in person, and there will always be the strong desire to meet someone with whom you have become "close." The desire to meet is the ultimate goal predators are banking on to abduct victims. Predators often have a fake profile of another teen who lives on the other side of the country, making it seemingly impossible to ever meet in person. In reality, the predator may be minutes away or within easy driving distance. Using fictional far away addresses makes it seem somehow "safer" to an unsuspecting teen to open up and share information. When a high level of trust is achieved through a shared crisis, somehow the predator pretends to have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet. "This chance to meet may never happen again. I will be traveling through your town and I can't imagine being so close to you and not meeting." The pressure of a once-in-a-lifetime meet is so strong and impossible to resist for almost anyone. The meeting will always be set up at a place away from the teen's home, and away from the safety of their parents. We have written on this site about how gang members in prison are on-line, with fake profiles and pictures, and are friending teens to bond and setting up meetings with other gang members who are on the "outside."
All a predator has to do is get friended by one teen, and then they can explore that teen's friends. Because the predator is a "friend of a friend," they easily gain access to the teen's social network. They look for who is in crisis and know which ones to go after and which ones to leave alone. "Friending" on social network sites gives predators access to phone numbers, names of schools and photographs. Everything the target says online becomes what the predator uses to gain a common experience resulting in closeness.
Though it is impossible to know everything children and teens will be exposed to online, it is possible to talk to them about the dangers posed on the internet. Have this discussion with them and show them the real stories of what online predators and traffickers have done by using easily accessible social networking sites and chat-rooms. Most importantly, let teens know that the kinds of techniques used to victimize teens, are also used to manipulate, trick and victimize adults and the elderly too. Adults are tricked and swindled all the time. Elderly people are constantly being swindled by predators who know just what to say and how to say it. The key difference is that predators usually only target adults for their money, while they target teens for their lives. Teens are more likely to be open to advice, if they are not being told, "you're young and easily fooled because of your age." Let them know that everyone has to watch out for predators. Keep family members informed of the dangers of the internet, so that they are empowered to stand up for themselves and stay out of dangerous situations.
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Nielsen Report - How Teens Use Media
Predator 101 Video - Alicia's Story
This Generation by StudentLife Video
"Get Anybody To Do Anything", by David J. Lieberman
Help Us End the Shelter/ Treatment Crisis
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