Internet: friend or foe?

by Becky GINOS

WOODS CROSS—Children as young as 8 years old are falling prey to online predators and with unlimited access to electronic devices, it’s harder and harder to stop.

“We investigate anything from birth to 18,” said Agent Bryan Purdy from the Davis County Attorney’s Office who gave a presentation on Internet safety to parents and children at Woods Cross High last week. “The reality is the things we’re talking about will make you feel uncomfortable, but if you’re not uncomfortable it won’t seem real to you.”

Purdy started with a short funny video where a stick figure man was making tea for someone else. It went through several scenarios of when you should or shouldn’t make someone drink the tea such as if they say they don’t want it or if they’re unconscious. “It’s the same with sex,” said Purdy of the film’s message. “Consent is everything.”

He cited statistics of Internet use in Utah and the state ranks high. “It’s not a fad, it’s not going away,” said Purdy. “Google keeps track of every single key stroke you put into the search bar. If there is access to something good, there’s access to something bad.”

The average age of first-time Internet exposure to porn is 11 years old, he said. “Ninety percent of 16 to 18-year-olds have viewed porn online. The largest consumers are 12- to 17-year-olds. The hardest part is seeing girls involved. We don’t have the conversations with girls because we don’t expect it.”

Porn is a slippery slope, said Purdy. “It piques curiosity then you get hooked to the excitement,” he said. “You start to slip further down into darker places. Eventually you get caught by loved ones or the police.”

He asked how many parents in the audience had kids with cell phones. Most hands went up. “The reality of it is you’ve given your kids access to porn on the phone.”

The first step is to accept it can happen and it’s out there, said Purdy. “Don’t let yourself be a victim. We’re seeing kids walking down that line, texting back and forth extremely graphic messages,” he said. “When you send it or post it, it’s gone forever and out there forever. Those posts can come back around. You can be denied by colleges, lose scholarships, or cause red flags on pre-employment background checks.”

Purdy gave these tips to recognize a predator:

• Usually male but may appear to be female

• Honest about being an adult but will minimize their age

• Looking for both boys and girls

• They might flatter you, send you gifts

• Discuss adult subjects and ask you to keep secrets

“Give each other compliments,” he said. “It’s not hard to do. Tell your kids you love them build them up. Predators get kids with flattery when they’re down. We wouldn’t even have to talk about cyber bullying if everybody gave compliments.”

He warned of online gaming and phone apps too. “When you’re online you can talk to everybody,” he said. “They (predators) are everywhere you can possibly imagine.”

Purdy encouraged the parents to check their children’s phones often. “Kids, your phone is not your personal journal to keep under a mattress – it’s public for your mom and dad,” he said. “There are so many apps that I can’t list them all. Parents, know what apps are on your child’s device and the passwords.”

Most victims he deals with are between 11 and 15 years old, he said. “Our job is to protect kids,” said Purdy. “We found over 30,000 pictures of child porn on one suspect’s phone. I’m the good guy trying to get between your kids and the bad guys. We can’t protect our kids enough. We have to help them make those choices themselves.”


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