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Online safety is ongoing battle for authorities

WORTHINGTON -- About a year ago, a teenage girl in Nobles County went online at 7:28 a.m.

At 9:20 a.m., she was raped.

"They talked for about a half hour," said Worthington Police Captain Chris Dybevick. "She met him and became his next victim."

Dybevick and other law enforcement officers work to educate adults, teens and children about the dangers of the Internet and mobile devices, making presentations and offering a variety of information and handouts. But educating the public can be an uphill battle.

"Parents are usually not as educated and/or as savvy as their children when it comes to the uses and capabilities of electronic devices," Dybevick stated.

Even if parents are knowledgeable, he added, many kids have personal cell phones and their own personal computers that are password-protected. He told a story about a teen who made an agreement with her mother regarding a social networking site. In order to gain permission to have a personal page on the site, the teen had to give her mother the user name and password, which the mother checked regularly. Later, the mother learned the site she was checking was the girl's "dummy" site. At another site, under a nickname, the content was much different. The girl had even posted photos of herself drinking and partying.

"(Parents) need to read their children's modern- day 'diaries' (phones/computers) to see what they are doing," Dybevick said. "It is not about being distrustful or snoopy; it's about being safe. Safe from predators and safe for their future."

According to information handed out during a recent presentation, one out of five teens has sent nude or semi-nude photos or videos of themselves to someone else. Sexting, a sexually suggestive text message sent with a mobile device, is a growing problem.

The fastest growing type of child pornography, according to Worthington Police Officer Bob Fritz, is that made by teens using cell phone cameras and video cameras. Fritz, who is an ICAC (Internet Crimes Against Children) officer and a school resource officer, said a teen may take a picture of themselves nude and send it to a boyfriend or girlfriend. Often, the couple will break up and the recipient of the photo or video will send it out to friends.

This leaves both the one who took the photos, even of themselves, and the recipients open to potential criminal charges. The person who took the picture or video can be charged with use of minors in a sexual performance or possession and distribution of pornographic materials. The recipient can be charged with possession, and if he or she passes it on to others, distribution of child porn.

"There are other potential consequences," Fritz explained. "Future employment and college admissions can be in jeopardy."

Teens are not the only ones overlooking safety or privacy issues when it comes to texting, sexting and posting information online. Recent events regarding celebrities and athletes -- Jesse James, Tiger Woods -- have proved that adults are just as fallible when it comes to making bad decisions regarding technology and information.

You don't have to be famous for inappropriate texts to come back to haunt you, Dybevick pointed out. A father of three in southwest Minnesota, he said, had an affair with a teenage girl and sent her explicit and graphic text messages, which she saved.

"Her parents never looked at her phone," he explained.

Eventually the affair was discovered, and that man is now in jail, Dybevick said.

Harassment via social sites and mobile devices is also on the rise. Of the 229 harassment calls taken by the Worthington Police Department in 2009, almost all of them involved electronics, Dybevick said, citing phone calls, text messages and online abuse.

A digital abuse study, part of a public affairs campaign regarding teen digital abuse by MTV, shows that half of all young people have been the target of some type of digital abuse. Curiously enough, only about half of the young people (ages 14 to 24) who participated in the survey said they thought about the potential for serious consequences when posting things online. Less than 30 percent of the study subjects said they had considered they could get in trouble at school or with their bosses.

A good rule of thumb is to treat online social sites, text messages and e-mail as though your grandmother might see it, according to the Web site., a program of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, offers four rules of Internet safety geared toward young children, but applicable to any age:

l I will tell a trusted adult of anything makes me sad, scared or confused.

l I will ask a trusted adult before sharing information like my name, address and phone number.

l I won't meet face to face with anyone from the Internet.

l I will always use good "netiquette" and not be mean or rude online.

Tips for parents include placing a computer in the most public room in the house, establishing ground rules and talking to children of any age about online and mobile device safety.

"Education is the best tool we have," Dybevick stated. "Parents need to be intrusive in their children's lives."

For more information about online safety, check out or Some sites are geared toward younger children, while others, such as or, are geared toward teens.