To catch a predator: My Chris Hansen moment

A friend of mine recently came over to my house and shared with me some issues he has been having with one of his teenage children. As a parent of two small children, my ears perked up and my blood pressure spiked when he mentioned that his second oldest child–very much a minor–had met someone over the age of 18 on a social networking site.

Although my children are only five and two, I am keenly aware of the dangers that lurk on the internet through chat rooms and social networking sites. My five-year old son is presently content with Noggin and Disney on the internet, but the day will come when he and my daughter want to set-up accounts on social networking sites to stay in touch with their friends.

My friend shared with me screen prints of messages from his child’s social networking site and the saved text messages retrieved from a cell phone. The contact was ongoing and this person knew the other person was a minor.

My friend told me how he retrieved the individual’s phone number from saved text messages on his child’s cell phone and called the person to request a cessation of contact. Much to my friend’s shock and horror, his phone call became the subject of a message on his child’s social networking page, with the young adult mentioning the need to be more careful in future contacts.

This friend solicited my help to serve an injunction against harassment against the person contacting his teenager. Without hesitating, I told my friend I would serve the injunction for him and make sure this individual understood the consequences for violating the terms injunction–arrest and possible imprisonment.

Sunday after Church, when my family finished eating lunch, I kissed my wife and children and headed off for my Chris Hansen moment…to catch a predator.

I reasoned that Sunday would be the perfect day to catch this person at home–playoff football on TV and a day when most people stay home. I was right!

As I pulled in to the neighborhood where this person lives, I saw the individual standing out in front of the residence. Easy prey! I turned on my voice recorder, exited my vehicle and walked toward the house with the injunction in hand.

I must have caught the young adult off guard because the color suddenly left his face and he stood motionless, looking over at his father for relief…none would come.

In my best command voice, I called out the person’s name and gave a prepared speech about the injunction of harassment I was serving, the penalties for violating the injunction and the reason it was being served. The father looked intently at his child as I served the injunction, and the two quickly disappeared inside the home, hopefully for a long chat and probably for a clean change of underwear.

As a parents, what are some of the tools we can use to monitor and control our children’s cell phone and internet activity? What works best for you? Do you have any tips or suggestions for others? Please, do share.

12 thoughts on “To catch a predator: My Chris Hansen moment

  1. Wow!

    Open discussion is the best tool and defence.

    Be sure not to give the feeling you want to meddle. As appropriate, show stories to the child of instances where these types of situations went wrong. Works for crazy driving too.

  2. Crazy driving…now that is an entirely different matter and I won’t go there. :-) I did some crazy things behind the wheel when I was a teenager. Of course, my brother was the one who got caught.

    Open discussion is a great tool. I keep my computer in an open area also, where anyone can walk in and see what is happening.

  3. Brian, I’m sure you left out some of the details, but was there some amount of “escalation” of warnings on the part of the father, and violations of those warnings on the part of the young adult, before the injunction was sought and granted? Was there clear sexual intent evident in the messages going back and forth between the subject and your friend’s daughter?

    Unless there was clear sexual intent on the part of the subject, the legal injunction does seem kind of extreme if it came after only one warning.

    Indiana is a state where the age of consent (for sexual contact) is 16. Your story reminds me of a story I read in the local paper. A local 16 year old girl had a sexual liaison with an adult (from out of town or out of state) at a motel. They had originally met online. The adult provided some wine for the girl.

    The only thing they could charge the adult with was providing alcohol to a minor.

  4. Bookslinger, I have left out several details, in the interest of my friend’s anonymity and for obvious legal reasons.

    Let me just say that the father was justified to file the injunction. The young adult disregarded the father’s strict warning that the young adult not contact his child. In my opinion, someone over the age of 18 has no business striking up a relationship–platonic or otherwise–with an unknown minor.

  5. Oh, the horrors or a social-networking site! Oh the dangers! The dark and mysterious monsters that lurk within them!

    Give me a break.

    There may be some, but there aren’t as many as the naysayers would like you to believe.

    You know how to keep you kid safe? Talk to them, explain your rules, and if you feel like you need to monitor them, tell them. Educate them.

    Be a parent.

  6. B., In this specific situation, there was a specific danger and threat that my friend dealt with in the way he felt best. You may disagree with how he handled it, but what’s done is done.

    I am not saying that all social networking sites are filled with danger at every turn, but as you pointed out, there are definitely some people who join these sites with bad intent. As a parent, I feel the need to ensure the safety and well being of my children. Additionally, some social networking sites, in my opinion, are better than others and it is worth looking into the social networking site(s) your children use.

    As you point out, it is good to talk to your children and set boundaries. I intend to have that conversation with my children when the time is right. For now, I have a filter on my internet that allows my children access to only certain sites and blocks everything else.

  7. You may not be aware of the recent report on the dangers of online solicitation issued by the task force that was created by 49 state AGs to study the problem. The task force concluded that the threat is overblown:

    But the report concluded that the problem of bullying among children, both online and offline, poses a far more serious challenge than the sexual solicitation of minors by adults.

    As is so often the case, it is the daily, banal threats that pose a greater risk to our children than the exceptional threats that get far more airtime precisely because they are so rare.

    I applaud you for helping to defend your friend’s child, but we should keep perspective about the nature and frequency of such threats. Facebook is not the problem.

  8. Social Network sites are not necessarily a problem, when handled appropriately. The author was not trying to communicate that social networking sites are evil (I’m not sure where that conclusion came from). The story is simply an example of how social networking sites can pose a danger to children (and young adults). I’m hoping the parent in this situation spoke with their own child to stop the communication before getting the injunction. But either way, this story can provide an example to children of why it is important to be cautious. It can also help children/teenagers understand why parents need to have an idea of the information and content that is available on the children’s/teenager’s own webpages. I am a child of the internet generation and there have been very specific moments where I was saved by the counsel of my parents on the dangers on the internet.

  9. Im watching Chis Hanson as i write this. It amazes me how many of these guys are out there and how stupid that they are.

Comments are closed.