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Sexual Predators Online

One of the attractions of the Internet is the anonymity of the user, and this is why it can be so dangerous. A child doesn't always know with whom he or she is interacting. Children may think they know, but unless it's a school friend or a relative, they really can't be sure. Often we think of pedophiles as having access to children out on the playground and other places, but because of the way the Internet works, children can actually be interacting on their home computers with adults who pretend to be children.

Child sexual exploitation occurs in every economic, social, ethnic, and religious group. With the explosion of the Internet into a powerful, worldwide medium, the danger to children, whether they are from New York or New Zealand, has drastically increased. Pedophiles and other sexual predators can use the Internet, with no precautions, to exchange names and addresses of other pedophiles and of potential child victims. Hidden behind screen names that are pseudonyms, they gather online and swap child pornography with amazing speed and in amounts beyond our wildest imagination, which excites them to molest even more.

Offline, pedophiles typically operate in isolation. Never before have pedophiles had the opportunity to communicate so freely and directly with each other as they do online. Their communication on the Internet provides validation, or virtual validation, for their behavior. They share their conquests, real and imagined. They discuss ways to contact and lure children online and exchange tips on seduction techniques. They are using the technology of the Internet to train and encourage each other to act out sexually with children. The Internet also serves as a tool for predators to exchange tips on the avoidance of law enforcement detection.

The most common means by which sexual predators contact children over the Internet is through chat rooms, instant messages and email. In fact, 89% of sexual solicitations were made in either chat rooms or instant messages and 1 in 5 youth (ages 10-17 years) has been sexually solicited online (JAMA, 2001). Considering that 25% of kids online participate in real time chat and 13 million use instant messaging, the risks of such children, either knowingly or unknowingly, interacting with a predator is alarming. See Parents Safety Guide section.

To Report Illegal Online Activity

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) provides excellent resources concerning sexual exploitation of children and related issues for the lay public, counseling community, and law enforcement agencies. NCMEC has created an extensive web presence for its Exploited Child Unit: These web pages provide background information on laws and legislation, tips and pointers for parents and children, and lists of preventive resources on the various aspects of child sexual exploitation.

In addition to its Web pages, NCMEC, in partnership with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Customs Service, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, serves as the National CyberTipline. To report possible illegal online activity related to child pornography, predation, or any other type of child sexual exploitation, call the CyberTipline: 800-843-5678
(800-TheLost) or contact their Web site:


© 2001 by Donna Rice Hughes. Request permission if you wish to reprint or post.