Parents...or pimps?

Rebecca Hagelin

8/17/2006 12:00:00 PM - Rebecca Hagelin

Any parent who doubts the need for great vigilance in our Internet age should take note of a recent survey conducted by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. It found that more children are falling victim to the products of perverted pornographers.

The survey of 1,500 children and their guardians found that one-third of Internet users ages 10 to 17 were exposed to unwanted sexual material -- up from one-quarter in 2000. “Researchers said this increase was partly due to aggressive marketing tactics, including adult pop-up ads and computer viruses that can download material from pornographic sites,” reported Cox News Service.

And an earlier study by the London School of Economics reveals that nine out of 10 children who go online will stumble across hard-core porn. Many of them are just trying to get their homework done when they suddenly find themselves gawking at the waste products of sleaze-balls -- the greasy characters of a parent’s worst nightmares.

Hello? Anybody listening?

Parents, here’s the sobering truth: If your child is exposed to garbage, pimps and perverts while online in the comfort of your home, it’s your fault.

You can’t blame the government; you can’t blame Microsoft or IBM or the FCC or even the World Wide Web. You are the guardian of your home. You are paying for the Internet service, the computers, etc. So while you can’t drain the overall culture sewage in which our nation and youth are immersed, you can -- for crying out loud -- control the spout in your own home.

The easiest way to do that is to put a reliable filter on your computer. Just as a water filter protects from many pollutants, so an Internet filter protects from most pornography. The key word here is “reliable” -- I encourage you to check out the many services available through www.bsafe.com. It’s the system I use in my home. You also have to realize that you are the ultimate filter. It’s your responsibility to monitor for garbage that might slip through, to warn your kids about online predators, and to teach them not to talk to strangers online. Mom, Dad, when you fail to take such action, it’s as if you have given the perverts your permission to stalk your sons and daughters.

While you’re taking the simple but daily steps to protect your home, you might wonder if anyone is holding the predators accountable for using and abusing our children and their youth.

One organization that deserves our thanks and support in the effort to protect our kids is the National Law Center for Children and Families. This year, NLC began the “NLC PROTECTS” series of seminars across the country -- bringing the nation’s top experts on sex crimes to train prosecutors, investigators and local government attorneys how to prosecute obscenity crimes and fight the sexual exploitation of children. Its two main goals are “to show the link between all crimes of sexual exploitation and to educate the attendees about the true nature of prosecutable obscenity.”

Tracking down sex offenders can be a tricky business. A thorough knowledge of the law and how it can be used to bring down the criminals who stalk our children is a must -- and that’s where the NLC comes in. They show officials how to investigate the ways predators entice our children online, how to interview child witnesses and how to prosecute sex crimes that involve obscenity and child pornography.

Why is such a series necessary? As NLC Executive Director Richard Whidden told Congress last year, we live in a “hypersexualized environment” -- one barely imaginable when the Supreme Court made its landmark Ginsberg v. New York decision prohibiting the sale of sexually explicit material to those under 17. As Whidden put it:

“When Ginsberg was decided in 1968, the Internet was a figment of science fiction writers’ imaginations; satellites were something only NASA and the government used; cable TV was rare; and persons who sought obscene materials could obtain it in only a very few places. Today, obscene materials are [as] easily accessible to us -- and therefore to our children -- as our home computers, classrooms, wireless communications devices such as phones and PDAs, and of course the vast wilderness of television. Obscene materials are no longer limited to the proverbial ‘plain brown wrapper.’ The accessibility, affordability, and anonymity of the Internet has had an adverse effect on our children and families.”

NLC PROTECTS seminars already held in Alexandria, Va., and Phoenix, Ariz., have received rave reviews. NLC plans to hold another dozen seminars over the next two years. To learn more, sign up for their e-newsletter.

The NLC (and many others) also worked hard to make sure the “Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act” became law. Named for the murdered son of John Walsh, host of the long-running TV series America’s Most Wanted, it was signed by President Bush on July 27. The legislation creates a national database of convicted child molesters, and increases penalties for those who commit sex crimes against children and fail to register with their state.

As I point out in my book, Home Invasion, the porn culture is everywhere, and it affects how human beings treat each other, our health and our basic humanity.

Parents, you must understand that even if a child molester never stalks your children, mere exposure to pornography inflicts a great deal of damage to their developing attitudes, psyches and morality. Jill Manning, a former visiting fellow at The Heritage Foundation, outlined the personal cost in a paper she presented to a special U.S. Senate subcommittee. Her review of the peer-reviewed research reveals that pornography consumption by children is associated with the following trends (just to name a few):

- Developing tolerance toward sexually explicit material, thereby requiring more novel or bizarre material to achieve the same level of arousal or interest.

- Overestimating the prevalence of less common sexual practices (e.g., group sex, bestiality and sadomasochistic activity).

- Abandoning the goal of sexual exclusivity with a partner.

- Perceiving promiscuity as a normal state of interaction.

- Developing cynical attitudes about love.

- Believing that raising children and having a family is an unattractive prospect.

- Developing a negative body image, especially for women.

Fortunately, there are ways you can help protect your own children. Arm yourself with good information about social-science trends -- information you can find at sites like familyfacts.org. Get a reliable Web filter for your home computers. And consider supporting the work being done by groups such as the National Law Center.

Who will mold your children? You, or the pimps?