Children can get caught by Web, authorities warn

When Denise Bates' 14-year-old daughter leaves school, the threat of bullies still lingers in the confines of her home.

The Internet has become one more way for her peers to taunt her, Ms. Bates said.

"They do it on MySpace," she said. "She and my other kids have been sent threatening messages. I know if their parents knew about them being on there, they wouldn't allow it."

MySpace.com, a social networking Web site, is just one of the sites that have become a mechanism for sexual predators and bullies to come in contact with underage Internet surfers, said Catherine Neal, the spokeswoman for CrimeStoppers of Savannah-Chatham County. Last year, 18 sexual predators were prosecuted in Georgia, and the same number have already been prosecuted this year, according to the Chatham County Sheriff's Department.

CrimeStoppers and the U.S. Attorney's Office will sponsor a Back To School Internet Forum at Augusta State University on Wednesday, Ms. Neal said. Cindy Marlow, a training specialist with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, will present the safety presentation to the parents and middle and high school students.

Parents should be aware of all Web sites and computer language that their children use, Ms. Neal said. POS, for instance, means "parent over shoulder," she said.

"You have to be aware of the language, and know what they're doing on the computer," she said. "The biggest thing is realizing that this can happen to them. It's real."

Youths who use the Internet are at risk, Ms. Neal said.

One in five youths have been approached or solicited online, according to statistics compiled by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. One in four have received unwanted sexually explicit material.

Yolanda Brown, whose 12-year-old daughter attends Tubman Middle School, said her daughter will have to wait until she's 15 to use the Internet at their home.

"There's just a lot of stuff on there that kids under that age should not see," she said. "For now: no YouTube, no MySpace."

Reach Stephanie Toone at (706) 823-3215 or stephanie.toone@augustachronicle.com.

IF YOU GO

The Back to School Internet Safety Forum will be held from 6:15 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at Augusta State University's Jaguar Student Activity Center, 2500 Walton Way.

INTERNET FACTS

- 18 sexual predators have been prosecuted so far this year in Georgia; the same number were prosecuted last year.

- Children start giving out personal information on the Internet as early as age 9.

- One in five youths have been approached or solicited online.

- One in four have received unwanted sexual exposure or sexually explicit material.

Sources: Chatham County Sheriff's Department, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children