It's an edgy public service announcement that may shock some Vermont parents, but authorities say that's the point.
The 30 second spot set to hit airwaves soon, paints a picture of the potential dangers teens face online when their Internet "friend" turns into a sexual predator.
"We may be talking about children in Vermont but the offenders can be anywhere," said Chittenden Unit for Special Investigations Lt. Kris Carlson. "The danger really is the fact that you don't know who you're communicating with."
National statistics show that one in three kids is exposed to unwanted pornography online. One in seven is sexually solicited over the Internet and one in 10 goes on to meet the potential predator in person. It's a pattern of escalation that authorities say is common in these enticement cases. "We're not only concerned about what it is at the moment, we're concerned about what it could be potentially be down the road," Lt. Carlson said.
Experts say cyber-predators tend to be white men over the age of 26. They're likely to have above average intelligence and income. Many have children of their own and no criminal history. Predators tend to groom their victims in chat rooms first, gathering clues about the child's interests -- where they live and who they are. They'll use things like screen names and probing questions to learn the details kids don't readily offer up.
"Phones are being used as a primary method of communication between offenders and victims or potential victims," Lt. Carlson said.
And as the public service announcement points out, much of this smart phone communication is happening at home.
(PSA announcer) "You're daughter just had her first date and never left her room."
"And that child can get into real trouble when really, the parents are in the next room," said Tris Coffin, the U.S. Attorney for Vermont. Vermont's top federal prosecutor says his office has handled several of these cases. And although awareness is improving, he says authorities need to do more to push their prevention message. "Because law enforcement can only do so much and it's after the fact and it's cleaning up a catastrophe and you can't really clean it up," Coffin said.
As part of the campaign the U.S. Attorneys Office plans to distribute Internet safety guides to schools statewide. On one side it's what parents need to do protect kids. On the flipside is what teens can do to protect themselves.
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