Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Internet Predators and Their Prey

Introduction

Kids who use Internet sites like Myspace.com often want a place of their own, where they can exercise self-expression and a bit of independence. What they don't seem to realize is that they're as vulnerable in such places as sheep to wolves — and often just as oblivious to the danger. They may think they've having a great time communicating on blogs and meeting new friends, but prowling among them are men who mean to use them for self-gratification, and perhaps even to harm or kill them. Even seemingly safe places can attract evil, and not just from adults.

Abdullah Jimzawi
Abdullah Jimzawi

In the June 17, 2006, issue of Science News, Bruce Bower examined "Growing up Online." He opened by describing a conversation between kids who like to mutilate themselves with cutting instruments, who compared the pros and cons of cutting devices that went deep but did not hurt. "It rapidly becomes evident," he says, "that this is not idle electronic chatter." In fact, there are more than four hundred sites online for "cutters," and it's obvious that Internet meeting places can offer kids more than just a social outlet. They can support each other but they can also push each other into negative behaviors.

Lester and her father going to court
Lester and her father going to court

The Internet has become a viable place for adolescents to seek support among their peers, especially when they have a difficult time making friends where they live and go to school. Sometimes they can assist one another, as on peer counseling sites, but other times they merely point out ways to maintain and even deepen self-destructive behavior. Children have "aggressively colonized" certain spaces on the 'Net, Bower, points out, and unless parents are monitoring closely, kids can make connections that may not be in their best interests. But they usually don't realize that.

In June 2006, Katherine Lester, from Michigan, ran off to the Middle East to meet a man who had contacted her in the Myspace.com site. Only 16 at the time, she was on her way to Tel Aviv, Israel, to join 20-year-old Abdullah Jimzawi when authorities intercepted her in Jordan. They sent her back home, where she faced a hearing in court. Judge Wallace Kent Jr. ordered her to surrender her passport and go to counseling. She agreed.

Long's mother holds a photo of her daughter
Long's mother holds a photo of her daughter

The two had interacted on the Web site, falling in love and making plans for Lester to convert to Islam and leave the U.S. But Jimzawi clearly wasn't thinking clearly; he still lived with his parents, was a high-school dropout, and had no way to support them. Lester, too, was too young to understand what she faced. But hers is a story with a relatively happy ending for her family. Other young people have fallen prey to predators who have no intent to marry them or otherwise assist them in life.

Christina Long, 13, was an honor student and cheerleader in Connecticut, writes Edward Baig for USA Today. She liked to meet strangers from the Internet and eventually one of these encounters ended with her death. Other girls have been raped and otherwise damaged by men who seek to conquer one young victim after another.

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