How Sexual Predators are Targeting Children using Google+: Part I – The Facts
By: John Schafhauser
Google is one of the largest and most successful tech giants in the world today. In the past decade, Google has become as ubiquitous to the internet as McDonald’s restaurants have to the fast food industry. From humble beginnings as a search engine, Google has expanded its services to encompass a variety of functions. Of particular significance is Google+, Google’s answer to Facebook. According to Business Insider, Google+ is now the second-largest social networking site in the world, with approximately 359 million active users. One of the pioneering features of Google+ is the “Circles” feature, which enables users to seek, add, and group other Google+ users into personalized “Circles”, or followings. Google+ also allows its users to create and join “Communities”, or common interest groups. Lastly, Google+ generates a list of “Suggestions”, or people that user may know or may want to add to his/her “Circle.” for each user. “Suggestions” are made in several ways, most crucially, based on the content the user searches for and profile pages he/she visits.
While Google+ is one of the most innovative social networks on the Internet today, its rapid growth has been associated with serious repercussions for the safety and security of its users. In particular, its touted innovations, “Circles”, “Communities”, and “Suggestions”, represent tremendous privacy susceptibilities that may put users, especially children, at serious risk for unsolicited, explicit content, pornography, and even communications from suspected/convicted sexual predators and pedophiles. In an effort to expose the myriad of significant privacy and safety breaches that Google+ users have encountered, an investigation was performed from March to September 2013 by a tech industry whistleblower.
The investigation’s findings were then confirmed and compiled into a report by Consumer Watchdog, a non-profit organization dedicated to exposing social injustices and confronting the responsible industries. The report substantiates Consumer Watchdog’s assertion that Google+ is grossly negligent in ensuring that its users conform to Google’s User Content & Conduct Policy. This policy explicitly states that content that exploits children, such as child sexual abuse imagery must not be distributed. Additionally, the policy stresses that sexually explicit material (i.e. nudity, graphic sex acts, etc.) is expressly prohibited. Consumer Watchdog has since presented specific violations of this policy along with the report’s findings to Google, urging for immediate action to “police and clean up” Google+. The following is an outline of the most significant and troubling discoveries:
In response to Consumer Watchdog’s report, Google has shut down some accounts of apparent online predators and eliminated some explicit sexual content. However, a fatal flaw still remains and is garnering much criticism. Specifically, this is the ability to add others to a user’s “Circle” without obtaining permission. Pedophiles and those who wish to exploit children are still present, digitally stalking children as well as soliciting and sharing sexually explicit material. Clearly, massive overhaul needs to take place in Google’s policies relating to their social media platform.
The good news is Google is taking crucial steps to remedy the situation. Specifically, Google is innovating technology to block malicious internet search results linked to child abuse and sexually exploitative imagery involving children. The goal of this initiative is to not only block imagery but also guide those searching for this content towards help. According to Ruptly (British digital news source), this software is currently rolling out in the UK for a trial period, with plans to expand to other English-speaking countries and 158 other languages over the next six months. The hope is that this technology will soon extend to Google+ and further protect children across the world from sexual predators who use this medium. Google has not shied away from its onus in enabling predators. Rather it is making a highly concerted effort to team up with other tech giants, such as Microsoft, and stop the dissemination of exploitative content. The following statement by Google’s Executive Chairman, Eric Schmidt, may underscore Google’s ambition and commitment to protecting children:
“While society will never wholly eliminate such depravity [child sexual abuse], we should do everything in our power to protect children from harm,” – Eric Schmidt
While Part I covered the overarching issues of the Google+ situation, Part II, will investigate what we can do on an individual basis to prevent additional children from being exploited.
PCA-NJ and the NJ Partnership to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse today announced the selection of two additional communities to take part in a groundbreaking effort to end child sexual abuse in partnership with Prevent Child Abuse America and the Enough Abuse Campaign, originally pioneered by the Massachusetts Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Partnership.
The Committee on Missing & Abused Children of the Gloucester County Department of Human Services and The B.R.I.D.G.E Center (Middlesex County) were chosen as the fourth and fifth organizations in New Jersey to replicate the Enough Abuse Campaign throughout their communities.
The initiative’s goal is to educate every adult in the community about the true nature and scope of the epidemic and give them the tools and knowledge they need to better protect children. Studies continue to show that many parents believe the major risk of child sexual abuse involves “stranger danger”, when in reality, up to 90% of all cases are committed by someone known and trusted by the victim and family.
PCA-NJ will provide free training on the campaign’s curriculum, which will enable these local organizations to mobilize their own hyper-local initiatives in a way that can be adapted for their respective community’s needs.
“Child sexual abuse is a serious public health problem in New Jersey and causes devastating harm to victims. We congratulate these two communities for their courage and commitment to taking action now to prevent any child from being sexually abused and we look forward to expanding the network of committed communities statewide,” said Rush Russell, Executive Director of PCA-NJ.
With funding support from the Ms. Foundation for Women and Prevent Child Abuse America, PCA-NJ has established the NJ Partnership to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse. The Partnership brings together experts from every sector and region of the State who share a commitment to preventing child sexual abuse before it ever happens.
In the past few days, one of the biggest stories in the media, even bigger than electing a new Mayor in New York City or the re-election of Governor Christie here in NJ, is the case of Jonathan Martin, an offensive lineman with the Miami Dolphins. Martin left the team after accusations of threatening behavior by another offensive lineman with the team, Richie Incognito. Although some of the descriptions of Incognito’s actions against Martin have been described as being “over the top, cruel, and crude,” other NFL players have defended Incognito as simply acting the same as hundreds of other NFL players have done for decades…that the type of “hazing” that is being described is deeply ingrained into the NFL locker room. And many people from many backgrounds have also weighed in, saying that the definition of “bullying” that can devastate child victims, does not apply to 300-pound grown men being paid millions of dollars to play a violent game.
But the case also highlights the difficult challenge of understanding or defining what constitutes “emotional abuse”…in this case, not involving grown men on an NFL football team, but of parents raising their own children. What is emotional abuse? Nearly every parent has, at some point, lost their temper with their children and yelled at them in anger. But is that abuse? If it happens rarely, of course not. But if it happens frequently, where is the line? Parents may criticize their children for failing to do something, from cleaning up their room, to making a poor grade at school. Dealing with criticism is part of life and children, like everyone else, must learn from both their accomplishments and their failures. But if a parent’s only tool is criticism, or does so in a consistent and mean-spirited way that belittles a child, is that abuse? Where is the line? Can it hurt children in ways that affect their futures?
Research shows that like other forms of child abuse, emotional abuse can leave permanent scars on a child for the rest of their life, including increasing the risk for mental health problems, substance abuse, other chronic health problems, and problems with relationships and jobs.
Why does emotional abuse happen? Again, it usually happens due to similar factors associated with other forms of child abuse and neglect, including a lack of knowledge about positive parenting and healthy child development, a lack of positive role models in one’s own life, and overwhelming stress caused by life’s many challenges – a lack of money, relationship problems, job stress or mental health issues. Any one of these factors can increase a parent’s frustration with their child, but alcohol use, added to stress, can be the volatile fuel that explodes frustration into true abusive behavior.
All parents should be aware of the harm that can happen to children from emotional abuse….but also understand that emotional abuse involves a pattern of persistent parental behavior, not an isolated incident. Studies show how remarkably resilient children can be, even after experiencing traumatic events. But research also shows that children’s healthy physical, emotional and brain development can be permanently marred by incidents of abuse and children who experience such trauma are more likely to repeat the behavior as adults themselves, and experience increased risk for a wide variety of health problems as they move from childhood to adolescence to adulthood.
What are the types of emotional abuse that can help parents review their own behavior and see where it fits? Come back next week for a second part of this article that will define the types of behavior that constitute emotional abuse, and more importantly, will include ideas that every parent can use to prevent emotional abuse.
For more information please visit: www.preventchildabusenj.org.
Nearly everyone recognizes the Super Bowl as one of the grandest of all sporting and TV events in the U.S. With the Super Bowl coming to the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey next February, the state’s tourist industry will receive a welcome boost in revenue from the sold-out stadium, parties, events and attending celebrities.
But what many people are shocked to learn, according to Attorneys General in states which have hosted the event, is that the Super Bowl is regarded as the largest “sex trafficking event” in the country each year. Sex trafficking is an illegal business operation where traffickers use fraud, coercion or threats of violence to force women, sometimes men, and – alarmingly — quite often children into prostitution. Research studies confirm that it causes devastating harm to victims, destroying lives and dramatically increasing the risk of mental health problems, drug abuse and suicide. A very high percentage of victims have suffered a previous incident of child sexual abuse, making them more vulnerable to exploitation by traffickers who prey on their unmet needs.
Many people think sex trafficking only happens in other countries – for example, in Thailand, which has become infamous for its ties to prostitution and trafficking. Or that sex trafficking may happen here in the U.S., but it only happens to foreign-born victims who are brought into the U.S.
The reality is that sex trafficking happens everywhere in the United States, including here in NJ, and that our citizens are at risk for being trafficked. The FBI and the NJ Attorney General have found cases in nearly every part of our state. Atlantic City, with the influx of tourists and money, has struggled with trafficking for years.
NJ also faces a special risk from sex trafficking due to its proximity to New York City. Many young women (and girls under age 18) move to NYC with the dreams of becoming a model or actress. Traffickers know how to take advantage, offering vulnerable women gifts, money, and false promises…that quickly turn into threats, entrapment and violence. Because New Jersey is a transit hub, complete with highways, ports, and an extensive public transportation system, people move relative easily and inconspicuously, across the state and across the state’s borders. And of course, New Jersey faces struggles with illegal drugs, gangs and other factors that make it easy for traffickers to conduct their business and not be caught.
Who’s at risk? Shockingly, the average age of a girl entering sex trafficking is 12-14. A girl who becomes alienated from her parents and runs away can easily be lured into trafficking by a trafficker posing as a boyfriend who offers help and a place to stay. Studies show that a runaway girl will be approached by someone in the trafficking industry within 48 hours of hitting the street. Youth who may be lesbian, gay, or transgender are especially vulnerable because they are often already treated as “outcasts” by their own family or community, and therefore can become a target for traffickers.
What can we do? Everyone can be more vigilant by knowing these facts. If you see a girl or boy you think could be caught up in trafficking, call the Polaris Project, a nationwide hotline that will help you decide what you saw and what to do. The number is 888 3737 888. There are many new efforts, led by our Department of Children and Families and the Attorney General, to educate people statewide about the warning signs and what you can do. Prevent Child Abuse NJ will be leading efforts to work with girls and boys who live in high-risk situations, such as runaway shelters, to prevent them from becoming involved in the commercial sex industry.
The Super Bowl will be an incredible happening for the state of New Jersey; with your help, we can also protect our children from being caught up in a human tragedy and horrific crime.
Preparing your home for a baby takes a lot of planning and a little creativity. When it comes to baby-proofing your home, you should never underestimate your baby’s number one talent: transforming everyday household items into safety hazards.
September is Baby Safety Awareness Month, which means that now is a great time to evaluate the security of your home. In the U.S., the leading cause of death among infants and toddlers is preventable household accidents.
Read through the following baby safety tips to make sure that your home is as secure as possible for your baby. You may even want to print these tips and keep them on your refrigerator. There’s a lot to remember when it comes to baby-proofing your home; it might help to read through these tips as a reminder every once in a while.
These are only some of the home safety tips you need to remember when it comes to keeping your baby safe. You may want to try getting down on your baby’s level to see if there are any safety hazards you are overlooking. If you crawl around your home, you may discover small items, such as coins, that could present choking hazards.
You should also remember that in order to keep your baby secure, you need to keep your home secure in general. Make sure you take appropriate fire prevention measures and install carbon monoxide detectors in your home to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Remember, your baby is relying on you to keep your house secure.
Some would argue that parenting gets harder with every generation. Today, more parents than ever before are juggling work and family life. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2012 65% of mothers with children under age 6 were in the work force. In 2011, among married-couple families with children under age 6, 53% had both parents employed. Moms and dads alike are navigating a new world where trying to achieve work-family balance can be daunting.
Employers across New Jersey have responded to the change in the work force and embraced creative strategies to meet the needs of working parents and retain valuable employees. With 9 New Jersey companies rated on the 100 Best Companies for working moms by WorkingMother.com (up from 6 last year), there is clearly movement towards creating family-friendly workplaces. Some strategies include: paid maternity and paternity leave, back-up childcare, flexible schedules, and work-from-home opportunities. Some of the large corporations in New Jersey even provide on-site childcare, on-site medical centers, and on-site fitness centers!
Companies both large and small can make simple changes that support working parents. An environment that promotes flexible scheduling and telecommuting opportunities is a great start. Access to comfortable lactation rooms is another great way to ease the transition back to work for new moms. Companies can also provide discounted access to family-oriented resources such as theme park tickets, sporting events, and vacation destinations. Informational on-site workshops or webinars on topics that are important to parents, such as Breastfeeding Basics, Car Seat Safety, and Saving for College, are another great way to show parents that the company supports working parents. Employers can organize a fun family day complete with car seat inspections, health screenings, and information booths. Providing opportunities for employees to bring their children to work is a excellent way to promote a family-friendly culture in the office.
A more ambitious way to attract and retain parenting employees is to offer unique high-end services like Parent Universe’s Baby Coaching, a customized home-based session with a parenting expert. “The transition to parenthood is difficult enough without throwing a full day of work in the mix,” says Director Patty Mojta. “Our Baby Coaches provide the individualized attention that parents need when trying to figure out how to juggle it all, and the reassurance that they are doing OK.” Employers can contract with Parent Universe to provide free or reduced-cost in-home services to their parenting employees as part of a competitive benefits package. An added bonus? Parent Universe donates all proceeds back to Prevent Child Abuse New Jersey to support services for vulnerable families. Learn more at www.ParentUniverse.org.
Prevent Child Abuse New Jersey commends employers who respond to the changing workplace in new and creative ways that support working parents. We know that supported, nurtured parents are better parents and better employees.
Kerry, a teen mother, is frustrated because her 18 month old son, Jack, will not stop running in the house. Through her tears, Kerry explained to her Social Worker that Jack consistently refuses to listen to her although she tells him repeatedly to stop. Jack has already fallen several times while running in his socks, and according to Kerry, he still has not learned his lesson. The Social Worker advised Kerry to continue parenting Jack with patience, persistence, and a positive attitude. She reminds Kerry that Jack is naturally exploring as a toddler; just as Kerry explores as a teenager. As Kerry has shared this frustration several times, she finally made the connection that the social worker implied. As a teenager Kerry has admitted that she often doesn’t listen to her parents and that children sometimes test their boundaries; a lesson Kerry said she can relate to.
Fortunately, Kerry is a participant in the statewide Parent Linking Program (PLP), a program that helps teen parents finish their education but also become the best parents they can be for their children. PLP is a program for teen parents which is provided free of charge in high schools that includes a social worker who provides regular counseling to students like Kerry. All teen parents in PLP are encouraged to be more responsible and nurturing parents as they balance the responsibilities of being a student-parent. In PLP, Kerry’s Social Worker reminds her consistently of the positive outcomes she can continue experiencing if she avoids having another unintended pregnancy; specifically while she is still in high school.
May is Prevent Teen Pregnancy Month where national awareness and participation is encouraged in an effort to prevent unintended teen pregnancies. These efforts are especially important for those who live with and/or work with teens who are already parents. Over 700,000 teen pregnancies occur each year in the United States; most of them, 80%, are unintended pregnancies. Each year, the Parent Linking Program (PLP), of Prevent Child Abuse-NJ reminds over 200 teen parents to make plans for healthy family choices and avoid subsequent unintended pregnancies. Although teen pregnancy in New Jersey has declined, there are still 6,000 teen parents statewide who could use support in preventive efforts to avoid unintended pregnancies.
PLP, a School Based Youth Services Program funded by the New Jersey Department of Children and Families, was created because it is a proven fact that children born to teen parents are at greater risk of being neglected and abused due to lack of knowledge, resources, and finances. In exchange for free child care, program participants are required to attend the weekly parenting and life skills workshops, in addition to the normal academic curriculum required for graduation. These components prevent present and future child abuse and neglect by enhancing the teenage parent’s self-esteem, knowledge of parenting and child development, and ability to meet financial responsibilities by helping the teen parent complete high school and delay repeat pregnancies.
Fortunately with the support of the parents/guardians of the teen parents and the support of PLP Coordinators (Social Workers, Directors, and Caregivers) 95% of the program’s participants do NOT have a second unintended pregnancy. Often in home visits, PLP Coordinators discuss with family members the importance of the consistent reminder of responsible family planning.
Most PLP participants express good intentions with their children despite their challenges. They are usually challenged with sacrificing their time, money, and even personal space (sharing bedrooms with their children). Participants are reminded that a repeat unintended pregnancy can add harmful stressors to the teen mother as well as her child. In addition, stress puts repeat births of teenagers more at risk of preterm and low-birth weight in comparison to their first births.
The Parent Linking Program’s 25 year history has proven that the program’s services can lead to powerful changes in the communities of New Jersey. 95% of the teen parents enrolled in Parent Linking Program have graduated high school and, 90% planned to attend college. Many of the PLP program alumni and current participants speak to their peers in school about their challenges and ways to avoid unintended pregnancies. Teen pregnancy prevention can be a communal effort sharing messages of responsibility in the homes, schools, cultural centers in every community. Fortunately, New Jersey is one of the lowest ranking states in teen pregnancy rates. In May, and every day, please remember that supporting a teen parent is increasing the likelihood of successful outcomes; high school and college degrees, greater job and life skills, and of course, happier and healthier children.
While PLP has trained professionals counseling the teen parents, these professionals also encourage the parents and guardians of teen parents to talk about pregnancy prevention. If you are a parent, here are some tips to help you navigate the discussion on pregnancy prevention:
In May and throughout the year, spread the message to a teenager that avoiding an unintended pregnancy is a responsible decision.
Prevent Child Abuse NJ would like to share a story to paint a picture of why we work tirelessly every day to bring child abuse prevention efforts to all parents, caregivers and professionals across NJ.
January 8th, 2009 a beautiful baby boy named Joey entered this world in a hospital in NJ. His family was overjoyed with his arrival and their new addition to their family. His grandmother, Amy*, was thrilled to have a grandson she could dote on.
Two months later, Joey was taken to the emergency room with bleeding on his brain and behind his eyes. His head was swollen and they weren’t sure if Joey could see or hear. He was a victim of Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) at the hands of his father; his father whom had also been abused as a child until adopted by Amy when he was 6 years old. Amy is the proud grandmother of Joey, yet also the mother of the abuser. This incident forever changed their lives as Amy now works each day to protect Joey, who is now a SBS survivor and just turned 4 years old this January.
In a complex story involving family dynamics, devastation and an intense determination to protect her grandson, Amy has become an active volunteer and strong voice to prevent shaken baby syndrome and infant abuse. She reached out to PCANJ as soon as she learned the Period of PURPLE crying program was coming to New Jersey; a program designed to prevent SBS.
In 2012, Prevent Child Abuse NJ (PCANJ) launched a shaken baby syndrome/infant abuse prevention program called the Period of PURPLE crying in 2 New Jersey hospitals: Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston and Newark Beth Israel in Newark. This program is effective at helping parents understand newborn crying and also teaching them about how to cope with the stress of a crying baby. Anyone who has ever been around a crying baby (add in no sleep for weeks with seemingly no end in sight!) can relate to the frustration of not being able to calm the baby down.
Fortunately, the PURPLE program teaches parents there IS an end in sight and that this is a period that all babies go through in their development. The cost is $2 per family for the hospital; an investment we think is worth it to save a child like Joey from having to ensure a lifetime of surviving the injuries from SBS.
Amy wrote: “As difficult as this is for me to re-live, I feel it is absolutely necessary, in the hopes of preventing another family from experiencing the tragic results of SBS. I’m all too familiar with the affects of child abuse on generations, and therefore, am willing to help in any way possible”.
PCANJ wants to bring this effort to more hospitals in NJ and with your support we can show that Prevention Matters… because Joey matters.
To support the Period of PURPLE crying program in New Jersey please visit our Period of PURPLE site.
If you are interested in knitting purple newborn caps for PCANJ’s Click for Babies in NJ campaign, please visit our Click for Babies site.
If you or someone you knows works in a NJ hospital that may be interested in bringing the Period of PURPLE crying to families who deliver there, please contact Gina Hernandez.
*Name has been changed to protect identity.
Recently, Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ) released a report that finds that our youngest children –those younger than age 3 — were far more likely to die from child abuse and spend longer times in foster care than older children. The report is a valuable wake-up call that raises public awareness about the high levels of stress for parents with young children and a number of long-standing weaknesses in the foster care system. The report calls for better training of child welfare workers and special attention to the special issues of babies and toddlers.
Prevent Child Abuse-New Jersey supports these excellent recommendations and while they may be necessary, they are not sufficient to fully address the challenge of child maltreatment that lies before us.
Child maltreatment – most notably physical abuse and neglect – happens to younger children in all settings for many of the same reasons it happens in the foster care system: younger children can present some of the most difficult challenges for parents because their communication skills are limited and their behavior can be trying even for the most stable and successful parents. And many parents lack sufficient knowledge about healthy child development to be a positive parent.
Federal statistics and NJ show that the highest rate of maltreatment happens to children under age 4 and the 80% of all fatalities from abuse occur to children younger than.
So certainly, ongoing reforms are needed in the foster care system to reduce the risk of child abuse for our youngest children.
But maybe more importantly, we have the opportunity to PREVENT these tragedies from occurring before a foster placement becomes necessary and before a child becomes a victim.
Improving the training of child welfare workers can be helpful, but strengthening proven prevention programs like home visitation would yield better results. Although home visitation programs have been expanded, we are only able to serve a small percentage of families in high-risk situations. We should also consider requiring foster parents to participate in home visitation programs to more closely monitor the stress level in this new temporary family setting, which would provide added education and support to prevent a tragedy.
The foster care system is a result of our most fundamental failure to prevent child abuse. Our first priority should be to strengthen our efforts to prevent child abuse from ever happening. Research about prevention programs shows they save lives, improve a child’s long-term health outcomes and success, and save taxpayers money by preventing the downstream costs of foster care, law enforcement, health care, treatment for substance abuse and mental health issues, incarceration and unemployment.
Anytime there is a case of child abuse, we need to back up from the crime and ask, “What could have been done to prevent this from ever happening?” In addition to helpful recommendation by ACNJ about reforms in the child welfare systems, there are many valuable opportunities to do better to prevent child abuse in NJ.
We recognize the extraordinary challenges and stresses facing parents in our State. The recent devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy, followed by an early Nor’easter, caused millions of New Jersey residents to lose access to the basic necessities – food, shelter, clothing, water and electricity. These unprecedented events came on top of other forms of devastation related to the economic downturn that caused many to lose their homes, jobs, and security for their families.