Tulsa Police stalk the stalkers

Thursday, February 7th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Sexual predators can have easy access to our children, on the Internet.

Nearly half of all Americans use the Internet to communicate, an estimated 80-million adults and 24-million children. It's a relatively new crime for law enforcement. News on Six reporter Tami Marler talked with Tulsa Police detectives about cyber stalking.

A number of laws have been written to address the growing problem of cyber stalking, and police are going to great lengths to catch sexual predators online. Tulsa Police Sgt Tim Stadler isn't himself. "The key is just to get online. You don't entice them; we simply go into a chat room and they start talking to us."

As part of the Tulsa Police Cyber Crimes unit, Stadler is chatting online as a 15-year-old girl. When he says he's home sick from school the messages start flashing, from grown men who know exactly what they're doing. “Date older guys? Have you had sex?"

Studies show one in five children ages 10 to 17 have received a sexual solicitation over the Internet in the last year. 65% of the time, they meet in chat rooms, and the encounters can get graphic within minutes. "Like for instance this gentleman who sent me a picture of his private parts is asking me what I like about the picture." After about seven minutes online, Stadler received two sexually explicit photos from a man who said he was 37 years old. That's a felony and the language was as lewd as the visuals. "Because they think I'm a young 15 year old female. And so they're asking me to do things of a sexual nature."

Sometimes the encounters turn physical. A man traveled from New Mexico to Tulsa to have a sexual encounter with a 13 year old girl he'd met on the Internet. Police caught the pair together in a motel room. It was the first big bust for the Cyber Crimes unit. Since then, they make about 30 felony arrests a year for a crime that can affect a child forever. "The flat taking away of the children's innocence by an adult who knows what he's doing and the child may be too immature to know what's happening at the time.”

Tulsa Police offer some advice about avoiding the problem. Do not share personal information in public spaces anywhere online, nor give it to strangers, including in e-mail or chat rooms. Do not use your real name or nickname as your screen name or user ID. Pick a name that is gender and age neutral. And do not post personal information as part of any user profiles. Be extremely cautious about meeting online acquaintances in person. If you choose to meet, do so in a public place and take along a friend. Make sure that your ISP and Internet Relay Chat (IRC) network have an acceptable use policy that prohibits cyber-stalking. And if your network fails to respond to your complaints, consider switching to a provider that is more responsive to user complaints.

If a situation online becomes hostile, log off or surf elsewhere. If a situation places you in fear, contact a local law enforcement agency.