Children’s Safety Online

Law Enforcement Update

Working Together To Keep Children Safe Online

At the Office of the Attorney General, protecting Texas children is one of our top priorities. With help from state, federal and local law enforcement officials, our Cyber Crimes and Fugitive units have arrested more than 700 sexual predators. Many of these cases involved criminals who used the Internet to prey on children. 

While law enforcement agencies across the state work together to arrest and prosecute criminals who prey on kids, parents and guardians must teach their children not to trust individuals they meet online. 

Since 2003, our Cyber Crimes Unit has aggressively cracked down on sexual predators who use the Internet to meet children. Cyber Crimes Unit investigators work undercover, posing as underage teenagers in Internet chat rooms and social networking Web sites. These highly skilled officers have one goal: to catch would-be sexual predators before they harm a child.

Within minutes of going online, Cyber Crimes officers are sexually solicited by prowling adults seeking to harm young children. In just five years, the Cyber Crimes Unit has arrested dozens of predators that used the Internet to arrange a meeting where they planned to sexually assault a child. Another 82 offenders have been convicted for posting or trading child pornography. 

Many of these sexual predators lurk on Web sites that are prominently used by children and teenagers. In July, our Cyber Crimes and Fugitive Unit officers arrested five more previously convicted sex offenders who were identified as possibly having MySpace.com accounts. Our investigators contacted them to determine such after receiving a list of convicted sex offenders from the popular social networking site MySpace.com. 

That list reflects one of a few steps MySpace.com has taken to improve online security and coordinate with law enforcement. But merely promising to work together is not enough. 

Earlier this year, 49 state attorney generals entered into a cyber safety agreement with MySpace.com. The agreement calls for the creation of an Internet Safety Technical Task Force to explore and develop age and identity verification tools, but it does not require that MySpace.com institute real age verification. Children can still create false profiles, input inaccurate ages and easily become targets for online predators. 

Texas did not join the agreement because it did not adequately protect our children. Social networking sites like MySpace.com must develop and institute true age verification tools. 

While our Cyber Crimes Unit will continue cracking down on online sexual predators, parents and guardians must help us keep their children safe. The most important safety tip is simple: parents must be actively involved with their child’s Internet habits. Just as parents would carefully watch their children at a park, parents should be informed about cyber safety and speak openly with family members about online activities. Children and teens are more likely to talk to an adult that they feel is calm and comfortable discussing the subject matter.

Parents can contact the Office of the Attorney General for a copy of our Cyber Safety Brochure, which offers valuable information on chat room “lingo” and provides online security tips for both children and adults. Parents with teens who visit social networking sites should be especially cautious. Our investigators encourage parents to have the passwords necessary to regularly monitor their child’s account. 

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, teenagers are more likely than younger children to get into trouble online. Teens are more likely to explore dangerous territory and reach out to strangers. Sadly, sexual predators often exploit the anxiety and confusion often associated with adolescence. 

Parents should keep the computer in a common room and limit the use of Web cameras. Digital images are easily captured online and are difficult, if not impossible, to retrieve once they are circulated on the Internet.

Teens and children who are approached by a stranger online should immediately inform a parent, guardian or any other trusted adult. They must not reveal personal information, including photos, video, last names or telephone numbers to strangers. 

Most importantly, teens should never, under any circumstance, arrange a face-to-face meeting with someone they meet online. 

We must speak openly with our children about making good decisions in life, including safely using the Internet to interact with others. We thank all parents and guardians for their commitment to the safety of their children and the future of Texas.