Press Release
For Immediate Release
July 31, 2007
 
Contact: Robyn Ziegler
312-814-3118
877-844-5461 (TTY)
rziegler@atg.state.il.us
 

ATTORNEY GENERAL MADIGAN INTRODUCES NEW INTERNET SAFETY TRAINING FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ON WEBSITES TARGETING CHILDREN

“Gateway” Web sites Target Younger Kids For Social Networking and Chatting Online with Strangers

Oakbrook Terrace – Attorney General Lisa Madigan's Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force today expanded its efforts to protect children from the dangers of the Internet with a new training for Illinois law enforcement officials.

Representatives from 75 law enforcement agencies from across Illinois gathered in Oak Brook Terrace today to learn about emerging social networking Web sites such as Club Penguin and Webkinz, which are aimed at children as young as six-years-old. The new training is designed to provide law enforcement officials with tools to help them make parents and children aware of the potential problems with sites that serve as a “gateway” to the world of Internet chat and ultimately condition children to feel comfortable chatting with strangers online.

Madigan expressed concern that these emerging social-networking Web sites are undermining efforts to keep children from interacting with strangers. This younger age group is even more vulnerable as younger children tend to view the world as a safe place with less awareness of its potential danger.

“When young children start using Web sites like Club Penguin and Webkinz, they are learning to chat with strangers online,” Madigan said. “Before they do that, we want to make sure that parents understand how these sites work and how they can take steps to protect their children. These Web sites provide a false sense of security because they look and feel non-threatening. But we know that predators can hide behind fake identities and even fuzzy penguins if they want to gain access to our children.”

In just two years, Club Penguin and Webkinz have emerged as popular social-networking Web sites for children ages six to 10 years, attracting about four million visitors each month. Unlike MySpace and Facebook, these sites enable children to select and control colorful characters, called “avatars,” to approach and chat with other users in real time, conditioning these younger-aged children to chat online.

Madigan urges parents to visit the parents' area of any Web site visited by their children and to familiarize themselves with the site in general and with the parental control options available on the site. The parental controls available on Club Penguin and Webkinz specifically allow parents to limit the language or content that can be used by their child during online chats.

“As we work to protect children from predators who use the Internet, we go to great lengths to teach children to stay away from strangers,” said Madigan. She added, “You simply don't know who is lurking on the other end of your computer. Our goal is to make sure that parents, law enforcement, and educators are all working together to help kids steer clear of online predators as they travel the information highway.”

The gateway Web sites training tool is the Attorney General's latest outreach effort to increase Internet safety education.  In March, Madigan unveiled the Internet Safety Education Act, Senate Bill 1472, designed to encourage Illinois schools to adopt an age-appropriate Internet safety curriculum for students in grades K through 12. This legislation identifies key topics for instruction, including safe and responsible use of the Internet, and the risks posed by online predators, identify theft, cyber-bullying and harassment, and illegal downloading.  In addition, in May, Madigan joined with the Illinois State Alliance of YMCAs to announce a new partnership expanding the reach of Internet safety education to include Y-Kids around the state. 

The Attorney General's office, through a grant from the Department of Justice, operates the Illinois ICAC, one of 46 such task forces across the nation designed to investigate child exploitation crimes and deliver Internet safety education. In 2006, Illinois' ICAC officers arrested 66 child predators and trained 23,718 parents and children. Since January of 2007, the task force has conducted 25 training sessions attended by approximately 682 law enforcement officers and prosecutors, and has conducted 91 Internet safety presentations for approximately 13,421 parents, teachers and students. For more information, click on: http://www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov/children/safetytips.html

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