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Education can protect children from predators

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POSTED: April 19, 2007 5:00 a.m.
One of the perils of communicating with strangers on the Internet is that you really have no idea who you are talking to. The anonymity that is meant to shield the innocent from online dangers often results in children and teenagers conversing openly with predators skilled at misrepresenting themselves.
One way to combat the growing number of crimes perpetrated against young people is education. To that end, the U.S. Department of Justice, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the Ad Council began a new phase of their Online Sexual Exploitation public service advertising campaign aimed at educating teenage girls about the dangers of sharing personal information through the Internet.
The Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office is working to incorporate curriculum into the Lowndes school system that will help youth to make safe and responsible choices. The information is not part of the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) curriculum, but Cpl. Stephen Harris with the Sheriff’s Office said this information should be presented during times when DARE isn’t being taught. Harris will soon appear before the school board to make a formal presentation concerning the curriculum, which is aimed at kindergarten students through high school seniors.
The push for better ways to protect young people from online predators couldn’t come at a better time. It was reported Monday that authorities in Florida charged 28 men with soliciting sex from a minor amid a week-long sting operation in the Orlando area. The men, ranging in age from college students to 40- and 50-year-olds, had chatted online with people they believed to be boys and girls ages 13 and 14, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.
While some parents want to believe there is a “type” of predator readily identifiable, the opposite is true. The men arrested included laborers and food service workers as well as an IBM consultant and a vice president of a South Florida real estate company, authorities said. Three of the men worked for Walt Disney Co. — one as an intern, another as a part-time instructor at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and the third as an electronics technician.
Hopefully, as more young people learn about the dangers of online activity, the Internet will become a perilous place for those who target children. Predators will not know if they are talking to young people — or to uniformed adults prepared to make an arrest.
— The Valdosta Daily Times
 

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