Preventing children and young adults from being victims of online child predators led the discussion at the “Eight Annual Circle of Hope: Stand United To Protect Children” on May 6.
The event aimed to educate people about the seriousness of child abuse and negligence, said Kathleen Van Antwerp, event coordinator and CSUN child development lecturer, who also educates people about child abuse.
Child care professionals and educators were given tips on how to identify child abuse, and report to authorities any child maltreatment they witness, Van Antwerp said.
“The national incident of children harmed or injured by abuse or neglect has more than doubled in the last two decades,” Van Antwerp said. “Internet predators are targeting children in unprecedented numbers.”
Mike McAndrew, FBI special agent of the New York City Crimes Against Children Division, suggested several ways to prevent child predators access to children.
The Internet has opened more avenues for those who exploit children, McAndrew said.
Chat rooms, game rooms and MySpace.com attract predators, he said.
“These predators go online. They become (childrens’) friends, and they are good at what they do,” McAndrew said. “They manipulate.”
“This is happening on a daily basis. It’s happening in our own communities.”
McAndrew talked about several cases in which he worked with young girls who were victims of child predators they met online.
It is hard to recognize who child predators are, he said.
“We arrest people from ages of 18 to 65 years old,” McAndrew said.
He said his intentions are not to scare people, but to create awareness.
“Don’t give up any personal information unless you know that person (online),” McAndrew said. “You don’t know who you are talking to.”
McAndrew said the amount of available information on the Internet is “disturbing,” adding that predators can locate where a child attends school.
Many parents don’t understand the dangers online, he said, because they do not go online.
Parents should educate themselves about the Internet, and go online with their children, McAndrew said.
Linda Koo, junior child development major, said she was surprised to know the dangers of networking sites, such as MySpace.
Koo said she was aware of how to report a child abuse case, but was not aware of the statistics of people contacting others online.
“Parents need to know who they are talking to, who they are chatting with,” Koo said. “I think parents should talk to their children and explain single steps and check their children’s (online) history.”