Yesterday's keynote speaker at a small tech conference in Marshall, MN, was Mike Detloff, a police officer from Moorhead, MN, working in the Crimes Against Children Unit. His topic was, of course, the dangers children face online.
Now I tend to dislike these sorts of presentations for a number of reasons, and Mike's talk was very similar to many I've heard from law enforcement agents - FBI to the local folks. Heavy on the gory stories of the repulsive acts of pedophiles. The innocent child snatched from the jaws of an online predator in the nick of time. A strange brew of information about online predators, child pornography, child abuse, public masturbators, missing and abducted children and even serial killers. Of today's popular evils, only Bin Laden usually seems to be missing.
MIke's view of the civil rights of criminal suspects was, shall we say, at odds with the ACLU's. Some of the uses of hidden surveillance cameras he bragged about seemed like entrapment to me. His conclusion that reading books about serial killers showed a propensity to become one did not seem exactly logical. (If we become what we read, I should by now be a gumshoe or a space alien.) And since these things were being addressed at a tech conference, all technology was guilty by association.
I guess I am weary of the use of fear by the government and businesses in this country to sell an ideology or a product. Were one to listen only to law enforcement, the Center for Missing and Exploited Children, or the manufacturers of webblocking/monitoring software, pedophiles lurk behind every web page and every click pushes a child closer to defilement or death. There are too few objective studies and analyses done in this area to help us gain some perspective. I appreciate the Nancy Willards and Ann Colliers and Larry Magids. (The ConnectSafely website has a good list of less sensational articles about Internet safety.)
But Mike made me think as well. More than I really wanted to. I don't want to think about this topic!
- Mike asked: If you are heterosexual, how many years of therapy would it take to make you homosexual? If you are homosexual, how many years of therapy would it take to make you heterosexual? If you are a pedophile, how many years of therapy would it take to make you no longer sexually attracted to children? (Why sex offenders are regarded as such for life.)
- Lonely, neglected children are those most at risk from the solicitations of online predators. His line was memorable - "If you don't tell your children you love them, someone else will." YIkes!
- He showed the video, The Eleventh Commandment: Honor Thy Children - a wrenching music video on child abuse that is nearly unbearable to watch. (Which also made me feel guilty for ever hollering at my kids.)
- I don't know how a person like Mike can work in crimes against children field for years. I have the highest regard for his sense of mission and dedication. I know he does this work for his own children's sake as well.
When I do workshops on Internet safety, I tell participants that while I believe the threat of online predators is over blown, even if there is only ONE such creature, we need to help kids learn to guard against such a threat. It's an unpleasant, uncomfortable topic. But it is one we need to acknowledge and understand. Even when we don't really want to.
Did I mention that Moorhead is the sister city to Fargo - just across the Red River? When Mike is working to protect the area's kids, those kids include my two grandsons. We may not agree on a lot of things, but I am awfully glad Mike is on the job.