Protecting kids from prying eyes
EAGLE COUNTY – Stayce Zamora knew Internet chat rooms might be a way for sexual predators to reach her two daughters – so she forbid them from using the online forums.”I come from the Internet industry and I knew at that time they weren’t really safe,” said Zamora, a Gypsum resident.Zamora’s children were a bit younger then. Now they’re 14 and 16, and other Internet forums like MySpace, instant messaging programs and chat rooms are exposing Zamora’s kids and other children to sexual deviants.”All (the Internet) has done is make it easier for the perverts to have a larger pool for fishing,” said Deputy Tamra Blackard of the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office. “Kids don’t understand at that age who is potentially on the other line.”In response to the growing number of children sexually assaulted during encounters originating on the Internet, the Sheriff’s Office implemented a task force headed by Blackard to identify and catch predators.
Blackard seeks predators by entering children’s chat rooms, where she poses as a 12-year-old girl, she said.”I don’t say anything,” Blackard said. “I wait for someone to approach me.”The tactic works. During the first seven minutes of a recent online session , three people purporting to be males began sexually explicit conversations with her.Talking sexually to a minor online is a crime, but only a misdemeanor, Blackard said. A felony is not committed until an adult meets with a child. A bill currently in the state legislature – House Bill 1011 – seeks to make a crime of luring a child to meet.To set up a meeting, perpetrators seek to gain a child’s trust, Blackard said.”That’s their No. 1 tool – making young children feel important and cared about,” she said. “The grooming is just the scariest thing.”In fact, one of the men Blackard spoke to online during the training session asked to meet Blackard’s faux, 12-year-old personality. The man is not local, but lives somewhere in the state, Blackard said. She plans to monitor the man for further criminal activity.Like this man, other perpetrators might not necessarily be locals or even from Colorado.”There are no boundaries with computers,” Blackard said. “We’re saving multiple communities. If I put myself between one predator and one child, I’ve done my job.”
Media reports of adults luring children on MySpace for sexual encounters worries some parents, including Zamora.She found her children using MySpace, an online service that allows people to create and share a personal Web site with friends and strangers. People with a site on the service can message one another, share photos and information, and use other features.Initially, Zamora worried about her daughters sharing information with strangers about where they live, go to school and when their sports teams practice.MySpace gives users the choice to either share their Web site with the public or only people they invite. When Zamora realized her kids use MySpace she told them not to make their sites public.”Children don’t know who they’re talking to and when they’re young, they’re more gullible,” Zamora said.Zamora herself admits making mistakes in the past, but with a different technology – the telephone.”We were dumb enough to meet one of the guys we crank called once,” she said.Staff Writer J.K. Perry can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14622, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado