The talk, at the Safety Village on Al Bishop Drive in southwest Marietta, was meant to be for mature audiences and not suitable for young children, but of the 80 people who attended the discussion, half of them were teens and school-age children.
According to statistics presented at the seminar, 78 percent of kids ages 12 to 17 have a cellphone, with almost half of those devices being a smartphone that can access the Internet.
Leah Mentre, 16, attended the talk with her father, Bryan Mentre of Marietta. Leah said she is on her smartphone whenever she is not in school.
Bryan Mentre said he started discussing online security measures with Leah almost a year ago, and hopes they can share information from the seminar with other parents and students at Leah’s school.
One of the first steps Detective Ray Drew, of the Internet Crimes Against Children unit, said is to have a strategy for children’s online communication. He said instilling caution in children is key.
Drew said he has been involved in many police sting operations after trolling the Internet posing as a 13-year-old girl. One of his fake profiles on Facebook has 594 friends.
Some busts of sex crime offenders has taken a year of chatting, which is common because most predators build a relationship with a child over time, a process called “grooming.”
Macie Peck, 17, said throughout her childhood her father has actively checked who she was talking to online.
“Growing up it was annoying, but now I know why he did it,” Peck said.
Peck said she came Thursday night as part of her research on sex trafficking for her senior project at school. The second half of the seminar focused on the commercial sexual exploitation of children, including pornography and prostitution.
By the numbers
According to the pamphlet presented at Thursday’s youth seminar, almost all teenagers display a picture of themselves on an online profile, with 24 percent even posting a video.
On these profiles, a majority of children list their name, birth date and what school they attend. Besides an email address, 20 percent also list their phone number.
Drew said because Facebook profiles often link to pages of family members, sports teams and churches, a predator could locate a child they have stalked online within hours.
That revelation was quickly followed by Drew saying that almost 75 percent of victims meet their predators more than once.
Pamela Flentje, of Marietta, who saw the announcement for the seminar on the Cobb School District’s website, said her major reason for attending was that her sons, 9 and 11, both have iPads.
“They can get online easily and get on gaming sites,” Flentje said.
Flentje said before the seminar she had already been talking to her sons about inappropriate online behavior.
One of Flentje’s sons told her another boy at school had taken a picture of himself in a towel and sent it to someone online.
“It is permanent. It is out there forever,” Flentje said.
Drew warned parents against allowing children to access Skype behind closed doors.
The site can be used for video chatting, where images of exposed body parts can be captured and saved by the other user.
There already may be a false sense of safety from strangers when a child is at home, but that same child can access the Internet almost anywhere outside or on a friend’s computer that may not have the same privacy restrictions.
Fending off bullies and predators
Thursday’s seminar not only highlighted techniques by Internet predators, but also the new online tactics of school bullies.
These days, bullying continues after the school day, moving from the classroom to the chat room.
There is a growing list of online websites, many of which parents may have never heard of, such as ask.fm, designed so people from around the world may ask each other anonymous questions.
Cobb County police officers defined “sexting” as the transmission of sexually explicit images taken on a media device.
It is a misdemeanor crime for anyone between the ages of 12 and 17, to send revealing images to each other.
However, if one of those teenagers electronically shares a picture of the other person to a third party, it is a felony in Georgia, according to Drew.
New crime called ‘sextortion’
Just the risk of sharing that image has led to a new concern called “sextortion.” This is a form of blackmail where the threat of posting an image online is used to obtain money or further sexual favors.
Drew said if a family member is contacted with sextortion threats, do not delete the messages so the evidence is preserved for the police.
Thursday’s audience was not only filled with concerned parents, but representatives of organizations around Cobb County.
One group was from the Marietta chapter of Girls Inc., which mentors young girls to promote academics, healthy living and how to navigate social problems, like sexting and bullying.
Ebony Dames, of Mableton, just started working for Girls Inc. this month and said she was there to learn how to keep the girls in the program safe.
Her colleague, Molly Randall, said through their middle school outreach on conflict resolution she has been told stories about bullying.
To address these issues, Randall said she must stay on top of the latest technology to know how kids are using the Internet.
WANT TO GO?
* What: Cyber Bullying, Social Media and Sexual Exploitation of Youth Seminar, presented by the Cobb County Police Department.
* Where: The Safety Village at 1220 Al Bishop Drive
* When: Monday from 7 to 9 p.m.
* Tips for monitoring a child’s online activity:
• Limit time on the Internet to two hours a day
• Keep the computer in a common area
• Take away their cellphone at night
* Warning signs your kid may have an inappropriate relationship online:
• Making calls to unknown numbers
• Spending a lot of time on the Internet
• Quickly closing a computer screen when a parent or adult walks by