Shawnee police detective offers tips to keep kids safe online
The statistics might unnerve some parents.
Eighty-two percent of sex crimes involving minors are initiated from social media sites.
More than 50,000 sexual predators are online at any given time.
One in 12 children have exchanged messages with sexual content with other people online.
During his internet safety seminar on Wednesday evening, Shawnee Police Detective John Stirling shared those grim numbers to an appalled audience of parents and other residents.
Stirling offered the free class to residents at the Shawnee Civic Center.
For the past four years, he has conducted the class at area schools.
This year, he decided it was time to include the public.
After all, the father-of-three understands the fear many parents have when it comes to their kids using smartphones and other similar devices.
“I’m not just a cop talking to you, I’m a dad talking to you,” he told the crowd.
Stirling was hired to the Shawnee Police Department in 2004; four years later, he was transferred to the investigative bureau.
He is currently assigned cases involving computer and cell phone forensics, online and technology based crimes and sex crimes against children, whether online or in person.
In many circumstances, internet safety and protecting kids from sex crimes go hand-in-hand, he pointed out.
After all, when it comes to aggressive sexual solicitation of youth, 73 percent of the youth met their solicitor online, he told the class.
“Sex crimes against children are nothing new, and believe it or not, that’s good,” Stirling said. “It means we’re not looking for a new type of predator. It’s the same one we’ve been looking for for years, they just have a new way of doing it.”
What makes many pedophiles even scarier, he said, is that they are good at disguise, deception, and trust.
They seem smart and charming. They are incredibly well-versed pathological liars.
“They are the epitomization of a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” Stirling said.
To protect your kids, and to help your kids protect themselves, Stirling offers this simple advice to parents: communication.
It’s important to talk to your kids about what apps they use and what kind of information they are sharing online, because it is better to be a nosy parent than have your kid be a potential victim, he said.
When it comes to social media, most kids see Facebook as antiquated and they gravitate towards apps like Instagram, Snapchat and numerous other lesser-known photo and message sharing apps.
Latest statistics show that Instagram has 600 million active users, of which 95 percent are under 35 years old.
Snapchat has 115 million users, with 14 percent of users admit to sending sexual content on the app.
Sometimes child pornography is hidden in plain sight, even on sites that may seem harmless, such as Pinterest.
By limiting what we put on social media sites, we can also lessen our chances of being a victim.
A lot of people have not personally met every single one of their Facebook friends, he pointed out.
Posting vacation photos online tells people you’re not home. Using the “check-in” feature on social media sites allows stalkers, or other predators, to know exactly where to find you.
Another statistic Stirling shared is that in more than 65 percent of sex crime cases, information gathered from social media sites led predators to the child’s home or school or both.
It’s not just predators that children have to worry about either.
Many times kids post stuff online without realizing it could come back to haunt them in the future.
Stirling showed examples in which kids posted photos of drug use or writing statuses complaining about a boss.
He said that 60 percent of employers use social media to screen job candidates and one in three employers have rejected a candidate based on what they see on social media.
At the end of the class, many parents in the audience discussed how eye-opening the information was to them.
Laurie Pavlik, Angie Newkirk, and Courtney Klahn, all of Shawnee, attended the seminar because they have kids who will soon be in middle school.
“We are clueless about what is out there and we want to stay ahead of the curve,” said Pavlik.
Newkirk told the Dispatch she found the statistics shocking.
As a parent of a child in the Shawnee Mission School District, she wishes this type of class was mandatory for all students.
After all, every student in the Shawnee Mission School District receives an iPad to use throughout their school career.
“If they’re going to give iPads, students need to know this stuff,” Newkirk said.
All the mothers agreed they would like to know more about privacy settings for smart devices, with Klahn adding she was left wanting even more.
“I would love to see a series like this, especially a class that touched on cyber bullying,” she said.
Stirling agreed he would like to have more internet safety classes in the future.
But he warned that he simply can’t teach everything because it would be near impossible, because new social media apps are coming out every single day.
“I would love to give an all-engrossing presentation on every app that is out there, but we would have an eight-hour presentation every day for who knows how long and I still couldn’t cover everything,” he said. “A presentation like this one guides parents on where to go.”
His goal is to get parents up to speed and prevent as many kids as possible from being victims.
If he can prevent at least one youth from being a victim, the internet safety class will have been successful, Stirling surmised.
“I want to open parents’ eyes and I want to awaken them, because any of this information could help keep their kids from getting harmed,” he said. “I love my job and I’m very passionate about it, but I would be very happy if all of this went away.”