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Online Dangers Part II: Predators

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<!– Teen Trends Newsletter - Discover the latest teens trends before they happen! –><!– Stacey DeWitt on Real Parenting –>
Wednesday, May 30th, 2007 Emily Halevy | CWK Producer

“His computer in essence left a digital footprint of where he had been and who he had talked to.”

– Detective David Vucich, Madison County Sheriff’s Department

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According to a recent survey, 29 percent of teens admit that their parents wouldn’t approve of their Internet activities if they knew what they were doing. Another survey found that one-third of teenagers post personal information about themselves online, including their real name, phone number and address.

Why is this so dangerous?

Bob Abram knows why. Abram’s daughter, Chelsea, learned firsthand the risks of the Internet and posting personal information online.

“Chelsea was a very, very attractive young lady. She did not look her age,” says her father.

Chelsea was 15, and like many kids, she spent a lot of time chatting online. That’s where she met Sam Levitan.

Levitan told her that he was 16 years old. He asked her for a photo, and Chelsea emailed him one.

“He is a predator and he knew what he was looking for … and what he was trying to find were girls,” explains Madison County Sheriff Detective Carol Doyle.

Chelsea also gave him her phone number, and that’s all Levitan needed to find her address. Late at night he drove to her house and called her from his car.

Terry Abram, Chelsea’s mother, recalls their conversation. “Levitan said, ‘Well, I’m right outside your house’ so [Chelsea] snuck out and got into the car with him.”

Levitan promised he would drive Chelsea to her boyfriend’s house. Instead, he drove her to his home — an hour away.

“She kept saying ‘I want to go home!’” says Detective Doyle, “and after some arguments ensued, he basically grabbed her and dragged her down the hall to his bedroom, and he raped her.”

Surprisingly, he had given Chelsea his real name, which allowed the police to find him and arrest him.

Detective David Vucich said that the police were able to discover that Chelsea was not Levitan’s only victim because “his computer in essence left a digital footprint of where he had been and who he had talked to.”

That digital footprint contained the screen names of more than 300 girls.

Levitan is now in prison, but the anguish Chelsea suffered was too much. On New Year’s Day 2007, she committed suicide.

“Chelsea is the reason [Levitan] is in jail. And I wish with all my heart that that little girl could have made it through it,” says Detective Doyle.

What We Need To Know

  • Although the Internet can be a dangerous place, parents should not become overly fearful and ban kids from using the computer. Realize your child’s future success depends on being savvy with technology. Instead, be smart and safe; do your research. (Kathleen Fitzgerald, Director, CyberCamps)
  • Children may have more technology experience, but parents have more life experience. Teach your children to make smart decisions online. Become involved in overseeing their Internet use. (Stacey DeWitt, CEO, Connect with Kids)
  • Learn about technology that can help keep your children safe. Install filters that block kids from viewing inappropriate material on the Internet. If necessary, parents should sign up for computer classes. (Harold W. Phipps, Computer Forensics Investigator, The Norcross Group)
  • Chat rooms are among the most dangerous places on the web. (James Murray, Police Chief, Peachtree City, GA)
  • Parents should go into a chat room and pretend to be a 13-year-old girl. Many will be surprised at the volume of sexual messages they attract. (Heather Lackey, Undercover Officer, Peachtree City Police Department)
  • Sexual predators often use online profiles — web pages where children post their name, picture, and information about their hobbies — to find their victims. (Joe Rosen, Former FBI Agent)
  • Not every sexual predator wants to arrange an in-person meeting. Some are looking for the sexual gratification of talking to a child via the Internet. This means the child is in danger of getting their sexual education from a pedophile, or becoming interested in sex at an early age. Often predators will start by sending a child pornographic photos. When the child gets used to seeing these photos, the subject of sex no longer seems so shocking. (James Murray, Police Chief, Peachtree City, GA)
  • Often sexual predators will lie and say they are in their teens or early 20s. Once the predator has gained a child’s trust, he will often admit to being much older. (Heather Lackey, Undercover Officer, Peachtree City, GA)
  • Many children do not tell their parents when they receive unwanted sexual messages because they fear the parents will restrict their access to the computer. Make it clear to kids that they can come to you if strangers approach them on the Internet. Report any inappropriate messages to law enforcement. (Kathleen Fitzgerald, Director, CyberCamps)
  • Having a web camera exposes children to even more danger. If children send provocative pictures of themselves to predators, those photos will likely be circulated to others. (James Murray, Police Chief, Peachtree City)

Resources

  • Madison County Sheriff’s Department
  • I-SAFE Foundation

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