Right and Wrong Ways to "Catch a Predator"

According to Reuters, the US Federal Courts will continue to hear the case dealing with the $100 million lawsuit against NBC. NBC’s series, “To Catch a Predator” is being blamed for the suicide of a former Texas prosecutor who was caught up in its popular sting strategy.

Assistant district attorney Louis Conradt shot himself in November 2006 after police officers came to his home in Terrell, Texas, accompanied by an NBC news crew planning to film his arrest for the television show. Conradt was allegedly expecting to meet up with a 13-year-old boy he believed he was communicating with online.

The tension is over the issue of entrapment. Critics of To Catch a Predator say the show does not report news, but rather makes news by luring people into illegal activities they normally would not do. Supporters say this show has done a great service keeping potential child molestors away from our children. The results of the hearing seemed to side with the critics “a reasonable jury could find that NBC crossed the line from responsible journalism to irresponsible and reckless intrusion into law enforcement.”

Media skews portrayal of internet sex offenders

In any given month, the news reports the story of Lacey, a 5th grade girl who was sharing intimate facts (as intimate as a 5th grader can be) with a fellow grade-school student from a neighboring school. Through chats, MySpace and text messages, Lacey and this boy have been planning to meet. After lying to her mom about meeting her girlfriends at the mall, Lacey’s mom drops her off. This young girl is then abducted, raped and then found dead in a ravine six weeks later. Come to find out, this 5th grade boy Lacey was talking to turned out to be a 40-year-old pedophile who had been sitting in the park stalking Lacey. This is the “stereotypical” situation but contrary to popular belief, not the typical cast in the screenplay of internet sex offenses.

Researchers from Crimes Against Children Center at the University of New Hampshire recently published a study showing “most online sex offenders are adults who target teens and seduce victims into sexual relationships.” By taking their time, the targeted youth (mainly female), see the relationship as a “romance” or a “sexual adventure.” Many girls also see this as a healthy relationship with an adult which they may be lacking at home.

According to the study’s authors, educational efforts directed specifically at teens might help them understand the negative aspects and incompatibility of a romantic relationship with an adult online. With frank, open and honest discussions of the behaviors that put one at risk of “internet-initiated sex crimes,” parents and educators may be able to reduce teens risk.

The study also showed that a use of social network sites (such as MySpace or Facebook) do not increase teens risk of becoming a victim of an online sex offender, but it may be the other risky behaviors that lead to trouble. Keeping a buddy list on an online chat program (YIM, AIM, Google chat, etc) that includes strangers, talking to those strangers about sex and “being rude” or “nasty” online (which honestly is quite a subjective idea) were all mentioned as risks. Unfortunately for me, simply writing this blog for you, I have put myself at risk; I’m talking to strangers about sex!

What do you think about the full article? Are you surprised to learn that the media isn’t always painting the “correct” picture?

For more opinions, check out
NetFamilyNews’ ‘Predator’ myths exposed: Study
Infocult: Information, Culture, Policy, Education’s post New study hits internet pedophile fears
Boston Public Schools Myths about online predators post
Perpetual Parenting’s post Most Internet Sex Offenders Target Teens, Not Kids

Better than class outdoors!

Brandon Hall Research announced in its newsletter that it held a meeting in Second Life. Benefits included a “novel environment” that energized and inspired creativity, being able to hold a meeting in a plesant setting (they chose outdoors with picnic tables), and seeing physical representations of those who they had only heard the voices of. Downsides include lack of practical meeting tools and inexperienced meeting goers finding it difficult to navigate.

Now that the weather is getting nicer where I live, students are starting to plead “can we have class outside?” I wish. I really do. But there is no way I could compete with the distractions of the sun, birds, and passers-by. Can you imagine having class in Second Life? Distractions could include:
1. Students changing outfits (or disrobing) in the middle of class.
2. Forget paper airplanes — students themselves would fly around
3. All avatars would look hot and sexy, distracting the teacher.
4. Sex everywhere. Boring lecture? No problem. Just hump the avatar next to you…

So, the idea needs work. The Brandon Hall group even admitted that someone jumped into a nearby hottub at the end of their meeting.

An Offhand Remark

I teach a college level course in Human Sexuality and my guest speaker today was from a local organization that goes to different schools to talk to middle and high school students about sex and relationships (it’s this last part that makes the program particularly unique). During the class, the speaker discussed some of the activities and topics that they address in secondary education — one of them being the importance of setting sexual limits with partners. So, the speaker asks the class: “What is a good way to talk about sexual limits with someone that you are with?”

Without hesitation, someone in my class yells out “Talk to them about it on MySpace.” Another said “IM them.” It was the first time that my own students (who are “older youth,” given that they are college students) were offering online solutions to relationship problems. It made me realize that my “target population” is no longer only in secondary education. They are right in front of me.

A Tragic Story

Dr. Kathryn Faughey, a psychologist who specialized in relationship therapy, was murdered in her office in Manhattan last night. Faughey was an expert in addressing the role the internet plays in not only romances, but also in break-ups, counseling her clients on how to destroy all lingering memories and artifacts of failed relationships that can be found on the computer. She was featured in a NY Times article on how the internet and digital technology impact ending relationships.

On a day that is supposedly (thanks, Hallmark and other commercial venues) supposed to be about love and togetherness, we are reminded brutally that those who try to mend broken hearts place themselves at risk.

Crimes against "children" by "children"

Another news feature on youth distributing racy pictures of themselves that are legally considered pornography. This story is based out of Southwest Florida, where Lieutenant Tom Smith of Collier County’s Child Sex Crime Unity is quoted as saying: “We’ve had 5-6 cases in the past six months where kids have been taking photos of themselves or friends engaged in sexual activity.”

As with all these stories, the solution seems to be to talk with your kids about the ramifications of doing this. More superficial advice comes from the expert on teen internet use, Dr. Russ Sabella: “Consider giving them a cell phone with limited capabilities. Why do they need video recording capabilities on their cell phones anyway?” He also states that motivations for sending these pictures include wanting to mimic celebrity sex tapes.

I think getting behind youth motivation to send these pictures is key. If it is to imitate the celebs, then warning them about mass distribution of the photos would be a bad strategy (instead, it might be wiser to talk about the criminality of the act). If the goal for taking the picture is to impress a crush, better relationship education may be in order. If the reason is to get back at someone, we need to think about netiquette, cyberbullying prevention efforts, and empathy raising. But we won’t know until we ask.