Ventura Police Department teaches local teens online safety

The Ventura Police Department is teaching local teens, school administrators and others how to stay safe online by providing tools and information to help them use the Internet safely.  According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project study, 95% of teens (ages 12 – 17) are online.  With access to almost unlimited information and the ability to connect with people from all over the world, children and teens are exposed to new risks including cyberbullying, exposure to inappropriate material, online predators and revealing too much personal information.

Even innocent use of the Internet can potentially put teens in an unsafe situation because they can become friends with complete strangers. And unfortunately, predators are everywhere.

Early this year, the Ventura Police Department teamed up with the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department, Ventura County District Attorney’s Office, and the Ventura County Human Trafficking Enforcement Team to conduct a “Sexual Predator Sting” operation in the city of Ventura.  During the operation, detectives entered various internet chat rooms primarily designed for teens, and posed as 14 and 15 year old girls. As the investigation unfolded, three adult male sexual predators entered the same chat room and contacted the officers, thinking they were young teenage girls. During the chat room conversations, each of the suspects engaged the officers in sexually explicit conversations.  In each case, the suspect agreed to meet and pick up the teenaged girl at or near where they believed the girl resided. When each sexual predator arrived at the agreed-upon-location, they were arrested and booked into Ventura County Jail.

Many teens think what they do online is separate from their “real” lives.   “We show students the impacts of their online choices, and how those actions matter offline too,” said Civic Engagement Specialist Ashley Bautista with the Ventura Police Department.  “We also encourage students to create safe, positive on and offline environments at school and with friends by being careful about what they share, not cyberbullying or encouraging it, not asking or pressuring anyone into sharing inappropriate content and by reporting inappropriate online behavior.  Most importantly, teens should communicate with trusted adults about online activity.”

Here are some tips for keeping teens safe online:

Begin conversations about Internet safety as soon as you allow your kids on the Internet.

Explain how to communicate appropriately and respectfully online.

Remind your teens that if something can get you in trouble offline, it can probably get you in trouble online too.

Strategize how to monitor and set rules for social networking, instant messaging, e-mailing, online gaming and using webcams, and consider monitoring cell phones, gaming devices and laptops.

Discuss the dangers of cyberbullying, revealing too much personal information and not knowing who you are really talking to (online predators.)

“With Internet access so readily available, cyber safety awareness is critical for adults as well as children and teens.   Parents and guardians can help keep their family safe by making sure children and teens understand how online choices can, and often do, lead to ‘real’ life problems” said Sergeant Matt Cain, Ventura Police Department.

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