Children, Sex & The Web

A new Internet study is Congress' first official confirmation of what most kids already know: Go into an online chat room and someone will ask you for sex, especially if you're a young girl.

The report, submitted to Congress Thursday, adds to our knowledge of life in the gutter of the Information Superhighway.

More than 15,000 young people, aged 10 to 17, were asked about their Internet experiences. And, as CBS News Correspondent Wyatt Andrews reports, their stories confirm that opening the door to a cyber-sex predator takes nothing more than a mouse-click.

Dark Side Of The Web
CBS News Eye On America Investigation

Part One:Online Seduction
Part Two:Minding the Cyber Neighborhood
Part Three:The Fantasy Defense
"If you're 13, that's when the more older guys start coming on," says Nicole Toro, a 16-year-old high school sophomore. "'Oh, can we talk,' all this stuff, 'What's your name?'."

"It's cyber sex," says Alicia Pow, another sophomore. "Probably some 50-year-old fat man sitting there."

With an estimated 24 million children now online, the study says one out of five have been solicited for sex in the last year. One in four were sent pictures of people who were naked or having sex. Perhaps most alarming, an estimated 725,000 children have been "agressively" asked for sex, meaning the request came with an offer to meet in person.

When 18-year-old Katie Tarbox was 14 she was molested by a man she befriended online in an AOL chat room.

"I logged on to a teen chat room and began talking with a 23-year-old Mark from Los Angeles, California," Tarbox said of her first encounter in 1995. "We had typical teen-age conversations about clothes, music, current trends in society. He made it seem like we had a lot of common interests."

She said on CBS News' The Early Show that their relationship began to get dangerous after about five months when the man kept on pressuring for a one-on-one meeting.

Tarbox said she agreed to meet with him at a hotel room in Dallas, where she was to compete in a national swim meet.

"I wasn't afraid or scared. I wanted to go see him," said the New Canaan, Conn., native, who has written a book, Katie.com - My Story," nd created a Web site to share her experience. "He called me in my hotel room and I went down to his and there I learned that Mark wasn't really 23 but a 41-year-old pedophile. I learned that after he molested me in the hotel room."

Fortunately for Tarbox, her mother was tipped off by her daughter's friend on the secret meeting and was able to rescue Tarbox from the convicted pedophile.

Tarbox pressed charges and the man from California, Francis John Kufrovic, was convicted under the 1996 Communications Decency Act.

Sexual Predators
Read How To Fight Off Online Predators, a special report by Wyatt Andrews
Last year the FBI and local police investigated almost 800 cases where sexual predators not only found children online, they then tried to arrange a meeting.

"This is a problem that's going to get worse from the standpoint of potential victims," says FBI special agent Peter Gulotta, "because we have more and more of our children with access to the Internet."

In fact, it's possible the survey understates the threat to children because, the survey says, most children don't tell when they've been approached.

Sexual Predators
Read this interview by Wyatt Andrews of Special Agent Pete Gullotta about the FBI's "Innocent Images" operation.
"Kids are reluctant to tell," Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said Friday on The Early Show. "They are afraid their parents will overreact, afraid the parents will pull the plug and take the privileges away. It's important we get parents and kids to talk about the problem."

"I laugh at it, I don't pay attention," said one girl.

Allen said there is a false sense of security for parents, who feel that as long as their children are on-line they are doing something positive and constructive.

"Kids tend to know about this stuff, but we found that the kids didn't tell their parents very often," said David Finkelhor, the report's author.

The report urges parents to learn more about the software that, in some cases, can block pornography from reaching a child's email. Other experts argue for a very simple rule for young children: no personal information on the Web.