This is how a predator works today.
On the Internet, a grown man misrepresents himself as a teenager and plays some of the most popular online video games. Side conversations develop and he and the other player—often a young girl, though boys are victims too—share thoughts, open and aboveboard, the man relying upon his victim’s trust and innocence. Eventuially the man requests pictures—innocent ones at first. (What do you look like?) If the victim makes the same request, finding a photo of some adolescent is easy enough. Then the requests become bolder—remove an article of clothing then two, then all. (Come on, just one photo—I promise never to share it.)
And that’s it. Armed with that one photo, the man then tells the victim he or she has been tricked. The threats and demands begin: I'm sending your photo to your friends, parents, relatives, and teachers. It will be spread across the Internet where it will fester forever unless, of course, the victim sends another photo, but more graphic this time, posed maybe. (In at least one case the man asked the girl if she could undress her seven-year-old sister and shoot a few pictures of that child also.)
(The situation is sickening and the article I'm referencing is painful to read, but I include the link so that you can see the full extent of this problem.)
Dante devised nine circles of hell—there has to be a tenth for the sexual predator, whether face to face or online. It’s not enough to claim that these people are sick or disturbed. To terrorize children, to rob them of their innocence and often their lives defines a kind of sick predation that is impossible to countenance.
Victims, pushed to the brink, have committed suicide; many others have tried to; countless others have contemplated it. The victims cross all socio-economic strata, all races and genders, all ages. Fortunately, some of the predators have been caught, and methods of tracking them down despite the elaborate intricacies of the burner account and the VPN are improving. But even then the damage has been done, and new victims arrive daily to nurture the sickness.
The individual stories are disheartening and repulsive, but we look away at our own risk. It is not a question of whether we trust our children but a question of how insidious a predator may be—how corrupt, how depraved. Parents need to keep tabs on just what their kids are doing online. "Just playing a game" can have unintended consequences, often to the surprise of the player.
Years ago I played an online game called Literati, a kind of digital scrabble. Eventually I stopped—tired of the rancor and malevolence of losing players. Compared to where we are today and the threats our children face, a few curses and vulgarities amounted to nothing. Sticks and stones, little more. That cannot be said for the sexual predator stalking his next victim.