Many parents have expressed anger that a federal court has reversed an Indiana law banning sex offenders from social networking sites, but some local child advocates and law enforcement officers say relying on the law to protect kids from online danger wasn’t realistic.
Shanna Martin is getting ready to talk to her daughter about internet safety, despite the fact that she’s just 7 years old.
“It’s happening. My daughter is in the second grade and she has friends that have their own smart phone,” she said. “Her Christmas list included an iPad, so it’s time for us to start having those conversations about what she is and is not to do on the computer.”
Martin knows it’s time because, as a prevention director for the Marion County Commission on Youth, she knows the reality children face often before parents are ready.
“The statistics are that one in four girls and one in six boys is sexually abused,” Martin said. “It’s something that parents really need to be aware of. Social media has increased predators’ ability to have access to kids.”
Though Indiana legislators sought to decrease that ability by banning registered sex offenders from using Facebook and other social networking sites, child advocates and even some law enforcement officers say the Supreme Court’s reversal shouldn’t be the focus for parents.
“Protecting your child from sex offenders starts at home and with the rules that you set,” said Greennwood Detective Sergeant Eric Klinkowski. “You can’t expect somebody else to do that for you. You have to start yourself and then there’s a response when things go wrong.”
Klinkowski has been investigating cyber crimes against children for more than 10 years and says predators, including many registered sex offenders, will find ways to use social media regardless of the law.
“The number one thing that we need to do is not live in denial that they exist,” Klinkowski said. “And not live in denial that it can happen to us.”
“It’s tough and it’s a challenge. Predators are out there and they’re always going to find a way to prey on children,” Martin said. “As a parent, I find that it’s my responsibility to make sure that my child is educated and empowered.”
Martin has a few tips for parents looking to protect their kids online:
- Keep Computers in Open Spaces
- Control Your Child’s Privacy Settings
- “Friend” or “Follow” Your Kids
- Sign an Internet Agreement
If you suspect an online predator is luring a child, you can notify the Greenwood Police Department online.