A friend of mine is a post-doctoral student in child psychology at Indiana University. Knowing that I regularly speak about online safety for children, she sent me an excerpt from a study of convicted online sexual predators that she and a team of researchers were working on. The study itself was horrifying, but what struck me as particularly disturbing was the transcript of an actual chat room conversation between a sexual predator and his 14 year old female prey.
Here's some background. The chatroom in question was one of the more popular teem chatrooms online. To avoid lawsuits, I'll omit the name of the site (not that it matters - it could have happened at any of them). As I said, the potential victim was a 14 year old girl - good student, active in school, soccer player, very popular. The predator was a 37 year old male, recently unemployed from a snack vending company, posing as a 15 year old boy.
The conversation I am going to show you was originally comprised largely of textspeak - the online shorthand kids use to text and chat online. It has been translated to standard English so you don't have to spend time looking things up. What is also included in the transcript of the conversation are notes about the tactics that the predator admitted to using at various points in the conversation. The lines written by the child are denoted with a letter C and the lines written by the predator with a letter P. Ingenious and chilling at the same time. I will reveal the outcome of this situation after the transcript.
[the predator admitted spending 3 days monitoring a particular chatroom to get a feel for the conversations and the topics kids were discussing. During that time he had two browser windows open...one with the chatroom and one with Google where he would research the topics the kids brought up so he could sound like he knew what he was talking about]
C: ...Kevin Jonas is the hottest
P: Oh my god he is gay!
C: He is not. How can you say that? He has a girlfriend.
P: So. Still gay
C: You would know. Are you gay too?
P: No. I just think he acts gay.
[predator did a search on Yahoo Answers to find out who the most popular bands with teens are.]
P: Panic At the Disco is way better
C: Oh my god, I love them.
[predator does a search to find out the most recent time they performed]
P: I got to see them at the Hard Rock in Vegas
C: Shut up. You did not
P: Did too. Went with parents in July and we stayed at Hard Rock.
C: Were they awesome?
[predator downloads a video clip of the show from the internet and forwards it as a video message to his cell phone]
P: I recorded part of it on my phone
C: You can get busted for that
P: They didn't catch me. I'm sly :-o
P: It's even awesome on my ghetto video
C: I want to see it
P: I'll send it to you. What's your number?
C: I'm not giving you my number. You might be a stalker ;-)
P: I'm just going to send you the video. Besides, you will know my number and then you never have to answer if I call.
C: True. It's xxx-xxx-xxxx
[Predator looks up the area code online. Then predator sends the video clip]
P: Did you get it?
P: You're from St. Louis? Oh my god I was just there visiting my uncle.
C: Really, where?
[predator uses Google maps to find a neighborhood in the suburbs of St. Louis]
P: Webster Groves
C: Oh my god that's like two minutes from me
P: Where do you live?
[predator Googles the schools in Kirkwood]
P: Do you go to xxx high school?
C: Yes, how did you know?
At this point the child had to leave the chatroom to go to soccer practice. On the way to practice she started talking to her mother about the conversation. Her mother immediately became concerned and contacted the police. With the girls cooperation, the police went back to the chatroom and posed as her. The predator monitored the chatroom continuously until he saw her ID return and instantly engaged. After another hour of conversation, the predator had arranged a meeting with the child (actually the police) and one week later was apprehended by police while trying to meet with the 14 year old girl.
The scariest part about this...I can see how almost any child might be tricked into revealing personal information like this child did. Talk to your kids!