One of the powerful forces made possible by the Internet is distributed and remote communication between people. We are literally surrounded by telecommunication mechanisms that allow people from all over the world to communicate with others. Sadly, in the face of such unprecedented opportunities for healthy connectivity, a pattern reemerges that is as old as humankind—for every garden, there’s a serpent. Online predators are individuals (most commonly adult men) who prey on teenagers and children, almost exclusively with a motivation toward illicit sexual relations.
The number of situations in which youth are victimized is difficult to estimate. One reason is that the percentage of kids who encounter an unwanted sexual solicitation online and then follow up by informing their parents is around twelve percent.1 Some children fail to inform parents because they simply don’t know any better. Others worry that if their parents find out, they’ll pull the plug and shut down their access to technology. In some cases, victims choose to keep the interaction private because they are, in fact, responsive to the overtures of the predator and don’t want anyone else to find out.
Situations in which a young person is deceived by an adult posing as a teen are both very rare and extremely dangerous, often resulting in abduction. These are the stories we read about in the newspaper, and which sometimes trigger an Amber Alert. But abductions constitute a small fraction of the cases in which emotional and spiritual damage is inflicted on youth by online predators. In the majority of cases in which personal contact is made between a predator and a victim, the youth goes willingly (and deceptively) to the rendezvous. The youth knows that the person they are meeting is an adult and that they are meeting for sexual relations.
As difficult as it may be to comprehend a scenario in which a teenager knowingly goes to meet a stranger that they know is an adult, it is important to understand the motives and behaviors of predators in order to understand the ways in which they pursue our children, thus helping us to better protect our children online.
As discussed in Chapter 3, “it burdeneth my soul should that I should be constrained … to admonish you … instead of feasting upon the pleasing word of God [to] have daggers placed to pierce their souls and wound their delicate minds.”2 Nowhere do I feel that instructional dilemma more than in dealing with this topic of online predators. While material such as pornography is damaging to individuals and destructive to families, predators victimize the innocent and sow seeds of lifelong emotional and spiritual struggle in their victims.
I’m reminded of the Savior’s stern rebuke of those who would victimize children: “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”3 Some of the Savior’s strongest language was reserved for those who would injure and abuse children.
As much as it “grieveth me that I must use so much boldness of speech,”4 it’s critical to understand how to protect our children from predators. Protecting our children begins with understanding the individuals who would victimize them.