Your child has been solicited by a sexual predator online by the time they turn 17 years old. That’s the newest statistic from the FBI, which tracks this information and gives it to agencies around the country, including the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office Crime Prevention Team. The official statistic given to the Okaloosa Sheriff’s Office by the FBI, is that “kids are 99% likely to talk to a sexual predator or offender by the time they are 17 years old.”
It’s one of those uncomfortable truths that I, as a father of two, had to face about the world I (and you) are raising our kids in right now. I learned this information from the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office Crime Prevention Unit at the cyber safety class for parents they hosted at Plew Elementary in October.
National and local statistics about sexual predators in the area are not encouraging. Nationwide, In 2009, about 100 thousand reports of child sex abuse material were made. 12 years later, 29.3 million reports were made.
Locally, Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Unit reported 38 cases in 2015. From January to September of 2022, ICAC has opened 267 cases of a similar nature.
So, who are these predators and offenders in Okaloosa County? What do they look like and where do they stalk their prey? It’s changed even in the last 10 years. “Is your kid ready to talk to Mr. Creepy?” Ashley Bailey from the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s office asked the parents at the seminar, “because statistically [they will]. Our generation doesn’t let our kids ride [their] bikes down the street because we are so scared of the creepy guy in the white van.” Bailey added that the trope of the creepy man in the white van isn’t what we should be focusing on. “Statistically, less than three percent of the time [the white van scenario] is what is going to happen. But the building is on fire for cyber. And our parents are not paying attention. Look at the other stat, only 15% of parents are aware of what their kids are doing online at any given time. Over 500,000 estimated predators are active each day online. Those are the ones we know about. 80% of our child sex crimes [in Okaloosa County] started on social media in some way shape or form.”
Nowadays, the most likely people to abuse your child are people online and other children they know – not the ‘guy in the white van.’
The simple reality: kids who are sexually abused by predators who are unrelated to them will more than likely meet that abuser online. That is why Bailey recommends strict security controls concerning your kid’s online presence. Privacy settings online are good. Monitoring and protection software specifically for families is better. Active involvement and engagement with your kids to talk about and know where they are going online is best. “Start early. Start having conversations with them early,” Bailey said. She told the group she started talking to her own son about healthy boundaries, sexual predators and other online issues when he was “four or five.” How do you talk about sensitive material like this in an age-appropriate manner? “We started talking about healthy boundaries,” Bailey said, “We started talking about privates, what are your private areas? We named those private areas that we talked about, we [talked about] how we don’t see naked people [out and about] and we don’t see other grown people naked. We don’t see other kids naked, and we don’t see pictures of other kids naked. I added that with him, because I know that we [in Okaloosa County] have kids on kids crime, or we have bigger kids – high school, middle school kids who sexually abuse elementary and preschool kids locally. And I know that blows your mind, but we had to talk about healthy boundaries – even this early.”
While they’re significantly less of a threat to your kids than the predators online or other children at school – Bailey still says it’s worth making sure you know what the sexual predators in our area look like – and making sure that your kids know to stay away from them. You can get that information here.
For people who like bullet points – The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office recommends these tips to keep your kid safe from sexual abuse.
There is plenty more information that I, as a parent, found imminently useful – but the Sheriff’s Office explicitly asked me not to repeat it. Information like, “What apps do predators use to meet children?” or “how are kids hiding conversations with predators” and other information in that vein. They don’t want to distribute that information widely, because they don’t want to tip off predators (who they regularly catch in sting operations) or kids who are trying to slip through the monitoring net the sheriff’s office has provided.
To get that information – you’ll need to go to the next seminar, which takes place at Ruckel Middle School on November 8th at 6:00pm. There is also a parent and student class which will take place the next day at Christ Our Redeemer Catholic Church in Bluewater Bay. You can also attend You don’t have to sign up – you just have to show up.
It’s worth the two hours of your time.