The internet is a fundamental resource that provides adults and children with opportunities for learning, entertainment and communication. But how hard is it to use the internet? Any child that is old enough to find a letter on a keyboard can access the World Wide Web. New technologies provide number of ways to communicate, and youth of today have mastered those techniques.
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The world of computers and internet is constantly expanding and changing, and it is not unusual if a child might know more about some software or website than a parent. But, the truth is that a child does not know that one of these technologies might have a negative impact on his/her moral values and behavior. As great of a resource as internet is, sometimes it might be used for illegal activities such as sexual exploitation, harassment, and pornography. The sad thing is that the victims of these activities are mostly children. That’s why in this research paper, I am going to focus on internet crimes against children, measures that should be taken to prevent these crimes, and punishment for those who commit them.
Pornography and Children as a Target
First of all, how often are children exposed to sexually explicit material on the internet? Unfortunately, any child that has access to the internet may come in contact with sexually explicit material. They do not even have to know the name of the URL of the website to view pornography on the internet. Most of the youth today are familiar with search engines such as google and yahoo, and it is really simple to type in something that might contain sexually explicit words and get at least ten thousand results in return.
The study of adolescents ages fourteen to seventeen has been done, and it shows that most of the children came to exposure to pornographic material accidentally or unintentionally. Sometimes they would get e-mails with links to unknown or unfamiliar websites, and out of curiosity they would click on the link, which brought them to a page that contained pornographic material.
Some exposures to the pornographic material are intentional and are done mostly by teens in puberty with the purpose of pleasure. So how often do children view pornographic material on the internet? An online survey was carried out which included 500 students, and 72.8 percent reported that they viewed sexually explicit material on the internet before the age of eighteen. Most children that intentionally viewed pornography in on the web in the past are likely to do it again almost every time they get a chance. This happens when parents are not around, and it even happens in random places that have computers and access to the internet such as public schools and libraries.
Impact of Online Pornographic Material on Children
It influences the moral values and sexual attitudes of youth. It changes the way children think about sex. They start perceiving sex only as pleasure, not thinking about consequences that might arise such as unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Children that view pornography are more likely to become sexually active earlier that children that do not.
One of the ethical issues that arises is questioning if pornography should exist on the web or not, since it obviously has a negative impact on youth. Well, in this case the three of workable ethical theories could be applied to analyze the problem, and decide if
having pornographic material on the internet is fair. Let’s look at Kantian’s 2ndFormulation of Categorical Imperative, which states that people should never treat other people as a means to an end. So when a new website is uploaded to the server, people are not forced to view that website. Since no one is forced to do so, it can be said that in this case people are not being used as a means to an end. But, here we are talking about children and youth as victims of being exposed to sexually explicit material on the Web. Well, that’s up to the parents to take part and get familiar with activities that their children are doing online.
We can also apply Utilitarianism to analyze the issue of pornography on the internet. First of all, we have to consider who benefits and who is being harmed by presence of pornographic material on the Web. Porn industry has great benefits from their websites being available to the people on the internet. For them, it is a way advertising their products and making money as well. There are also a lot of adults who benefit from it because they view it for their pleasure. Children and youth are being harmed by their actions because sexually explicit material influences their moral values and sexual attitudes. In this case it’s hard to tell if there are more people who benefit then people who are being harmed by presence of pornography on the Web. On the other hand, it is easy to tell that there are greater benefits on pornographic material being on the internet. Utilitarianism does not mean the good of the greatest number, therefore having pornography on the Web is fair.
Pornography on the internet is not the only issue that arises with easy accessibility to the World Wide Web. What’s more of an issue is that some people are using the Web for sexual exploitation.
Online Sexual Exploitation
Easy access to the internet has led to increased exposure of children to online sexual exploitation – exposure of children to online predators. Most of the children that are victims of online sexual exploitation are under the age of seventeen. A year-long survey has been conducted in 2001, which analyzed 129 Internet-initiated sex crimes. It involved victims age seventeen or younger, and it found that 74 percent of those victims actually met with the predator. What is even more heartbreaking is that 93 percent of those occurred meetings involved sexual contact. Are girls and boys equally exposed to online sexual exploitation? It was assumed that girls are at higher risk and are more likely to fall victims to online sexual exploitation than boys. Well, this turned out to be true confirming that seventy-five percent of victims included in the survey from 2001 were girls.
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Today there are more ways than ever to find a mate, but sometimes search for love can be devastating. When it comes to potential of meeting new mates, nothing compares to the internet. Most of the time, the danger of this modern way of dating can be ignored. There are also situations where people involved in online dating might be in it for love. Well, these people are known to our community as online predators. So where do online predators come from, and is it easy to tell who might be online predator by their physical appearance? Online predators come in different shapes and sizes, and have different expectations from their victims. Social status does not matter when it comes to determining who might a potential online predator. They come from all backgrounds, and are not easily detectable. They might seem like respectable members of the community, which of course can be deceiving to many of us. Who would ever come to thinking that an online predator might be a teacher, fireman, physician, former military personnel or a successful businessman, but the cases of these have been reported.
A reality television show To Catch a Predator was featured on NBC, and there was an episode where a high school teacher, caught on hidden cameras, showed up to a meeting, which he thought he arranged with an under aged girl. There was no under aged involved, instead police officer was posing as a thirteen year old. He was caught and trialed thanks to the effort of the police and enough evidence collected by hidden cameras. There was also one case were a former military officer was involved in online sexual exploitation. He was also caught and sentenced to serve time in jail. Most of the time when online predators get caught; they are publically humiliated and sentenced to prison time. The prison time depends on the severity of the case, and it ranges from two to twelve years. Some predators were just placed on probations because they did not make sexual contact with their victims, but did set up the meeting which they never showed up to. They were also ordered to pay a big fine.
Bullying and Harassment on the Internet
Communication technologies such as social-networking websites like MySpace and Facebook have led to rapid growth of teens harassing their peers. In 2005, a survey was conducted, and it has been found that almost thirty percent of youth have harassed their peers via the internet. Seventeen percent of those have harassed the others multiple number of times. The survey was also done with the purpose to show the incidence of children being bullied on cyberspace. It showed that thirty-two percent of 900 teens under the age of seventeen have been harassed when using MySpace, Facebook or instant messaging. What is heartbreaking is that cyber-bullying may lead to a tragic end sometimes. A 13 year old girl committed suicide after being cyber-bullied by her neighbor who pretended to be a teenage boy. It turned out that he was an adult, and of course he had to pay for his actions.
Measures Parents are taking to prevent Their Children from Internet Crimes
Although kids feel like they are aware of dangers of using the internet, in reality, they are naive when it comes to online communications. The following are measures that parents should take to prevent their children from becoming a victim. Parents need to become familiar with their children’s online activities. There is software that comes with Windows 7 and Windows Vista, or that can be downloaded for free such as Windows Live Family Safety Setting. Most of the social-networking sites have policies that require users to be thirteen years or older. If a child is not old enough to fulfill that requirement, parents should not let them use it. Some parents educate their kids about the dangers of online chatting, and set certain expectations from their children. Many parents are taking part in becoming familiar with who their kids talk to when they use chat rooms. They are also educating their children to stay in public areas of chat room since many chat rooms allow for one on one communication in chat room’s private area. Parents are also encouraged to keep their computers in most common areas of the house so that they can monitor their kids when they’re online.
Since there are potential risks of email, many parents are setting up family emails, which their kids can use as well. This is one of the ways to protect their kids from being exposed to pornographic material contained in emails. They also urge their kids not to open any unknown emails reducing the risk of internet related crimes. Some also have passwords to their children’s social networking sites, which enables them to check the messages. There are options which allow parents to use parental controls, and other setting and preferences. Another way of monitoring that same parents use are is spy software. A Spybot by Brickhouse Security was advertised on CNN, which enables parents to monitor everything their children do on the internet. It’s easy to install, undetectable, and the kids will never know it’s there.
Internet Crimes against Children and Law Enforcement
The expansion of the computers and internet has played a major role in sex crimes being committed against children and youth. The new communication technologies created new challenges for Law Enforcement to come up with new investigation techniques, and handle the crimes done on internet. The federal government has increased funding in the effort to prevent internet related crimes. They created Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, which supports state and local law enforcement agencies in fight against internet crimes. Internet crimes are divided into three categories. Internet Crimes Against Identified Victims, which involves production of child pornography and other internet related crimes committed against identified victims. Then there Internet Crimes Against Unidentified Victims, which involves undercover law enforcement posing as minors in chat rooms. And the third category of internet crimes deals with offenders who are involved in possession, trade or distribution of Internet Child Pornography not using the internet to sexually exploit identified victims or solicit undercover investigators.
Most of the arrests are made against offenders who commit crimes against identified victims. Sixty-seven percent of the arrests involved offenders who possessed child pornography. Eighty-three percent had images of children mostly ages 6 to 12, and 80 percent of those images showed sexual contact between minors and adults. Majority of offenders were non-Hispanic white males over 25 years of age. Eighty-five percent of arrests involved state, local or county law enforcement agencies, 46 percent had agencies operating on federal level.
Moral Question Related to Online Predators and Law Enforcement
Is it ok for Law Enforcement Agencies to set up traps in which online predators can fall into? According to all three workable ethical theories, it is ok for law enforcement to pose as minors in order to catch a predator. Minors are being used as a means to an end since predators introduce themselves as cute teenage boys. Minors do not benefit from these kinds of actions, and they get to live with the fact that they were sexually abused by an adult. On the other hand, predators get pleasure from these actions. So there is greater “bad” than “good” in it. Social Contract Theory approves actions of law enforcement because they are dealing with someone who shows up to the meeting ad forces a minor into something that they do not want to do.
As we could see, Internet use has become widespread. Some use with the purpose of sexual exploitation of children and distribution of child pornography, while some use it to harass their peers. These kinds of activities have created concerns among parents, lawmakers, educators and law enforcement agencies. Parents have taken part in educating their children about dangers of internet crimes. Despite all these measures, internet crimes against children are still present, and law enforcement agencies are operating on local, state and federal levels to catch those committing these crimes, and preventing internet related crimes from happening as well.
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