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Site Warns of Online Dangers to Children

The D.A. offers tips on how parents can track molesters and monitor computer use. Halting youth cyber-crime is another goal.

September 25, 2003|Anna Gorman | Times Staff Writer

A 14-year-old girl began an online conversation with a Los Angeles County man, who lured her to a meeting and then molested her. Two Pasadena teachers seduced two female students by sending sexually explicit e-mails.

These real-life cases are described on a new Web site launched by the Los Angeles County district attorney's office to prevent children from becoming victims over the Internet. The site, which will be formally introduced today by Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, gives parents tips on how to track sexual predators and how to monitor the family computer.

The "Protecting Our Kids" site also aims to prevent teenagers from getting in legal trouble online, explaining the types of crimes committed: downloading copyrighted songs, creating bogus EBay accounts to sell nonexistent merchandise and hacking into corporate servers to destroy information. The online guide makes it clear that parents can be held liable for their children's actions.

About 62% of teenagers say their parents know little or nothing about their Internet use, and only 52% of parents say they moderately supervise their child's online use, says the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

"The technology has exploded so quickly that parents have so much to keep up with," said Carol Baker, who heads the Bureau of Crime Prevention & Youth Services for the district attorney. "The kids, on the other hand, are right on top of the technology."

Baker said parents need to monitor Web surfing to learn who their children are talking to and what their children are doing. Of 45 million children ages 10 to 17 who use the Internet nationally, one in five has been sexually solicited, and three in five have received an e-mail or instant message from a stranger, according to national statistics.

Microsoft Corp. announced this week that it is shutting down online chat services in most markets around the world and limiting chat groups in the United States to reduce criminal solicitations of children through Internet conversations.

The district attorney's office teamed up with PTA officials, who will tell parents in schools throughout Los Angeles County about the new Web site.

"We all know there is a danger of pedophiles and of people who will use the Internet in a harmful way for our children," said Linda Ross, vice president of community concerns for the 31st District PTA in the San Fernando Valley. "Anything that is going to protect our kids is a great idea."

On the Web site, Cooley offers a warning to parents: "Much like the real world, the World Wide Web can be an inviting but dangerous place for children. Young people with unmonitored access to the Internet are exposed to a wide variety of risks, some of them life-threatening."

Through the site, parents can connect to law enforcement links and can buy software program to help monitor computer use. Beginning today, the Web site can be accessed through the district attorney's site at da.co.la.ca.us.

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