Digital kids in danger

Children are more vulnerable than ever to predatory grooming via portable multimedia devices

     Radar technology is not just for civilian consumers. The company also works with law enforcement on cases involving crimes against children, for which Lotter says the company does not charge a fee. He explains that the company currently works with law enforcement, typically on a case-by-case basis, applying the technology as needed for various crimes. In addition, eAgency has a pilot program underway with law enforcement officials in Colorado Springs, Colorado, working with parents to quantify the harmful ways phones are used against children and how police and Radar can be employed to eradicate and prevent those incidents.

     Nelson says a product like Radar enables parents to monitor their children's cell phone use much as they currently examine their Internet usage — and for the same reasons. The City of Denver is looking into ways to apply Radar software with adults as well. Nelson says they would like to use phones in domestic violence cases where harassment is a problem. Additionally, eAgency is exploring ways in which its technology could used by law enforcement and governmental agencies to monitor and collect information, for example, with confidential informants.

Unfettered access

     All of the experts involved in this story cited accessibility as the No. 1 challenge that cell phones add to the pre-existing problem with kids and the Internet. Canton, now a 22-year-old college student in San Francisco, California, can look back and identify what John did to groom her without raising any red flags. Their relationship was sustained with communication though the Internet and over her family's home phone.

     "If I had had a cell phone, John would have probably talked to me even more than he did, because he could have called me in the middle of school," Canton says. "I could have ditched class to talk to him. He could have called me 24/7, day or night. We didn't have that sort of availability, but still we had enough time to develop a relationship. That's what scares me about this: Most cell phones have all the capabilities a computer has, or close to it. So maybe Mom and Dad say it's time to go to bed, but it's 3 in the morning and the kid's in bed on their cell phone, browsing the Internet."

     Jeffery Brown, an investigator with the Orange County (California) Sheriff's Department says he sees more than a handful of cases involving cell phones and sex crimes against minors come across his desk every month. He says oftentimes the crime is uncovered by a parent accidentally, only after the child has had a great deal of communication with the predator. He also said it's not uncommon for predators to supply children with a cell phone.

     "The way some of our cases come about is a parent says, 'Hey, I've discovered my kid's got a cell phone'," Brown says. "By the time this perpetrator has given the kid a cell phone, it's pretty deep. That kid is generally going to be in love and it's very difficult to break that kid away."

     In other cases, Brown reveals, a parent will find printed e-mails, pictures of body parts on cell phones or in e-mails, and then they discover this individual has been texting the child's phone every day.

     But Canton didn't have a cell phone, and so her interaction with John remained linked to semi-controllable circumstances; her landline telephone and computer time controlled by her parents. Still, the teen was slowly groomed by John through gifts and attention that made her feel special. Eventually, he told her he loved her and wanted to marry her, and as sex crime investigators need to see, John introduced sex into their conversations.

     It turns out John was a child predator living in West Virginia, who used the same grooming tactics — building rapport via Internet and telephone, sending gifts and declarations of love — to introduce sex and sexually charged communication with several girls, including Canton and a 13-year-old girl in West Virginia. Canton believes that because the girl in West Virginia lived closer, he chose to pursue her first. But once Canton and her family learned who John really was, Canton realized how much he actually knew about her. It was a nerve-wracking time while the FBI searched for the perpetrator, who was wanted for rape, because it was found that he had purchased a plane ticket to Canton's hometown. John was apprehended, and Canton was subpoenaed and later flew to West Virginia to testify against him. At the trial she was asked to read explicit e-mails aloud in the courtroom for the jury.

An alarming trend
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