Protect your child from electronic abuse

By BETH CHAPMAN / Community Columnist

April is National Child Abuse & Prevention Awareness Month, and there is a new type of child abuse of which we all need to become aware — electronic child abuse. I will be writing a series of articles this month to address this widespread problem.

Soliciting children online and exploiting them via the Internet today is what picking them up on a playground was in the past.  Twenty-first century technology has brought with it many changes, both good and bad.

One bad thing is the ability to solicit children through electronic means: the Internet, web sites, text messages, chat rooms and more.

Cyberspace is where children hang out and, sadly, it is where children are getting picked up and abused physically, mentally, emotionally, psychologically and sexually.

At best, they are exposed to a betrayal of trust, tempted to leave the security of their homes to meet their new “friends,” and/or exploited through innocent information and photographs they post online willingly.

At worst, they are seduced out of their homes by these “friends,” who are really child abusers and possibly registered sex offenders. They are the predators, and children are their prey.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports that one out of every six children today is solicited online.

That means in an average classroom of 30, five children are being solicited online.

This generation of children is all too accustomed to using computers, and so are their predators.

Online predators look for children who share their personal lives online:  their parents’ divorce, breaking up with their boyfriend, getting in trouble at school, making bad grades, moving to a new community, staying at home alone —all things making them vulnerable.

What is worse is that the child’s photo, address and phone numbers are there for the entire world to see.

Children innocently give out information that child molesters would be willing to pay for, but they don’t have to because it’s all free online.

If law enforcement officers are posing as children to draw out child molesters, doesn’t that tell you that the child molesters are doing the same thing but for all the wrong reasons.

We can only hope that the law enforcement officers get the child molesters before the child molesters get the children.

Beth Chapman, Alabama’s secretary of state, is a Shelby County resident and writes a weekly column for the Shelby County Reporter. You can reach her at bethchapman@bellsouth.net.