Monitoring children online vital for their safety

An editorial from the Parkersburg News and Sentinel

PARKERSBURG — West Virginia residents who shook their heads in disgust at the arrest of Jared Fogle on charges of, among other things, possession of child pornography, may be surprised to learn that right here in the Mountain State, the number of arrests for either child pornography or online solicitation has been increasing every year. In 2014, there were 321 arrests.

Emily Chittenden-Laird, executive director of the West Virginia Child Advocacy Network, and State Police Sgt. James Kozik, commander of the West Virginia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, are at the frontline in finding these criminals and protecting our kids. In fact, one of the reasons the number of arrests has increased is because officers have gotten so much better at hunting down perpetrators.

But other reasons are less comforting. West Virginia was behind the curve in getting high-speed Internet access to its citizens. As that has changed, so has the number of people able to access the websites that facilitate such crimes.

Children in West Virginia are also more tech-savvy and have access to more websites and apps than ever before. To some degree, kids now have the tools in their hands that will allow them to become victims.

Technology and the Internet have made the lives of parents and teachers easier in many ways. When it comes to vulnerability, however, the Internet can be a nightmare. Monitoring is essential, as is education. Parents must not shy away from the difficult discussions about why using Snapchat or similar apps can be dangerous, and the rules about talking to strangers apply just as much in cyberspace as they do on the street.

Kids must not be afraid to speak up, to alert parents or teachers to potentially criminal behavior online. Those who have grown up surrounded by this virtual world must know that its dangers can be all too real.

Applause is due to the law enforcement officers who have stepped up their efforts against Internet sexual abuse crimes. During the first half of this year, they nabbed another 123 suspects. But their work is only half of the solution. Children must not be given all the technological gadgets available today without also being given the know-how to protect themselves.

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