Highland News Leader

State’s attorney: Parents need to monitor children’s online activity

It’s a sad reality, but statistics show you can find a victim of child abuse or neglect in nearly every classroom.

One in 22 students in Madison County will be involved in such a case, according to prosecutors, and the trend is going the wrong way.

“The numbers go up each year. As we get better at prosecuting, more people come forward. For so many years, this has been swept under the rug,” said Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons, who spoke on the topic last week at a forum in Highland put on by Moose Lodge 2479.

“Every month, we try to have someone come in and speak,” said Highland Moose Lodge 2479 governor Jonathan Gould. “The lodge members, with most of those in attendance being either fathers or grandfathers, were very receptive to the message and mission of the CAC (Child Advocacy Center).”

Gayle Frey of Frey Properties in Highland, a board member for the Friends of Madison County Child Advocacy Center for the past three years, also spoke at the forum.

Frey said he is passionate about getting the word out about CAC’s mission of helping children who have been victimized.

“The center serves a very important role in our community. The Madison County Child Advocacy Center is a resource for the children who are brave enough to disclose physical or sexual abuse,” Frey said. “Through a recorded forensic interview, children are able to share their story one time, in a safe and supportive environment.”

The center works with a team composed of law enforcement, DCFS professionals, Madison County States Attorney’s Office and medical and mental health professionals.

“In 2015, the center experienced its busiest year yet. They interviewed 650 children involved in an allegation of abuse. This was a 28 percent increase from 2014,” Frey said. “Child abuse is a serious issue in our community.”

So far in 2016, the CAC has had five record months in terms of the number of interviews conducted and is seeing an additional 11 percent increase in services.

Gibbons said it is important for parents to keep a diligent watch on their children’s online presence in order to safeguard them from potential predators.

“There is a myth that children have constitutional rights and parents can’t search their stuff,” Gibbons said. “Parents can search their children’s phone. And don’t let them sleep with it. Charge it in a different location overnight.”

Gibbons also said that most children who are abused personally know their abuser.

“Abusers will use any means available to groom their victims, including cell phones, texting, social media messaging and apps that allow for the transfer of photos and video,” Gibbons said. “In a recent interstate child abduction case, the abuser used a cell phone and messaging system to coordinate with his victim to meet and flee the jurisdiction. Family members in the home had no idea this was happening.”

Overall, Gould, the Highland Moose Lodge governor, said the lodge’s reaction was so positive that they have shared contact information from the CAC with their district president.

“Steps are already being taken for other lodges throughout Madison County to host similar presentations. Within our own community, our next step will be to include the CAC in future youth awareness programs and to formerly discuss some level of financial or service related support,” Gould said.

Internet Safety Tips for Kids and Teens

▪ Spend time having fun with your parents online and helping them understand technology.

▪ Never post your personal information, such as a cell phone number, home number, home address, or your location on any social networking site or through mobile apps like Snapchat or Instagram.

▪ Never meet in person with anyone you first “met” on the internet. If someone asks to meet you, tell your parents or guardian right away. Some people may not be who they say they are.

▪ Check with your parents before you post pictures of yourself or others online. Do not post inappropriate pictures of anyone.

▪ Never respond to mean or rude texts, messages, and e-mails. Delete any unwanted messages. You may need to delete friends who continuously bother you or post things that are not appropriate.

▪ Never share your password with anyone, including your best friend. The only people who should know your password are your parents or guardian.

▪ If you wouldn’t say something to another person’s face, don’t text it or post it online.

▪ Do not download or install software or anything on your computer or cell phone before checking with your parents or guardian.

▪ Use the privacy settings of social networking sites.

▪ If anything makes you feel uncomfortable online, while gaming or when using your cell phone, talk with your parents or guardian right away.

Source: Netwsmartz.org and safekids.com.