Sexual Predators: The Hunters and the Hunted

    I suppose it isn’t news that there are sexual predators on the Internet.  Most of us know that we live in a dangerous world and we do our best to protect our children from the worst of it.  I am an engineer and have a natural curiosity about technology.  As a result, I’m pretty comfortable, and good at, computer stuff.  Our computers at home have a firewall between the world and our little local network, another firewall on each computer, everything is password protected, we have anti-virus and anti-spam programs, and we have a fairly effective parental control program that further limits the ability of our children to roam the dark and dangerous neighborhoods of the Internet.  I thought we were doing pretty well… until Saturday.

    On Saturday my wife and I attended a seminar and listened to Detective Bobby Grizzard (pronounced like ‘lizard’ except with a ‘g’) from the Massillon Police Department.  Detective Grizzard knows more about the dangers of the Internet than your average person.  Why?  Because for five years, Detective Grizzard,  who is six-foot something and who is built more like a linebacker than an office jockey, has been “undercover” as a teenage girl pursuing online predators with the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. 
    One of the first things that Detective Grizzard told us, was that before the end of the day, as a demonstration, he would go online and engage a predator in conversation, and, if possible, would get that person to call us.  For the next several hours we learned about privacy settings, which I knew pretty well, but also about cell phone apps and devices that could give my children a shortcut around our firewalls, security settings, and parental controls.  I learned about smartphone apps with built-in virus hacks that can force your phone’s camera on so that a predator can watch and listen to what is happening in your home.  I did not know all of this and, with three teens in our home, I realized that I still have a few things to learn.
    At the end of his talk, Det. Grizzard did just as he had promised, but the demonstration was more than I expected.  He went online and within seconds had engaged several predators in conversation (posing as 15 year old girl).  In less than ten minutes he was “chatting” with ten or more of them and more were added every few minutes.  In ten more minutes he had two of these begging for his (her) phone number to call and talk live.  One of the women from the seminar volunteered to be the voice of the girl (at work, Det. Grizzard had software that changes his voice) and spoke with the man for a few minutes.  I couldn’t hear everything that he said over the speakerphone, but it was obvious from the looks of shock on the faces of some of the women in the room that the man wasn’t talking about the weather.
    When Det. Grizzard finally picked up the phone the predator immediately hung up.  It didn’t matter.  The phone number that he had called passed through the police department before being routed to our seminar.  The police department had already captured the name, address and phone number of the man before he had said his first word.
    I have always been active in maintaining the security of my children at home and on the Internet.  I thought I was doing pretty well, but I found that I have more work to do.  I always knew that there were people out there who wanted to victimize my children, but I discovered that there are more of them than I imagined.  There is new technology coming out every day.  Much of it is good, but there is some really evil stuff out there as well.
    I took two things home with me Saturday.  One, there is evil in the world that is smarter, sneakier, craftier and more persistent than we give it credit for.  Predators are cruising the Internet in search of victims.  As parents in the twenty-first century, we must me more vigilant than ever before and we must educate ourselves in order to keep our kids from becoming victims.  Two, I thank God every day for people like Detective Grizzard who go to work every day and spend time hunting for, and chatting with the vile, loathsome, scum that prey on children.  Because of men and women like Detective Bobby Grizzard all of our children are safer and we can all sleep a little better.  Thanks.

You Can Change the World

As I noted in an earlier post, I recently attended a surprise retirement party for my high school band director, Mr. John Rodgers. During that event we were given the opportunity to make a few remarks or to share our remembrances from our days in the Kenmore High School marching band. I remember many things. I remember the insane shaving cream fights that we had at band camp (and I still remember how to modify a can of shaving cream to shoot 20 feet). I remember selling oranges to earn enough money to go to Disney World for their tenth anniversary (though I honestly recall very little of the trip itself). I remember many events but I also remember that the band room was like a home away from home for a lot of us. We showed up as soon as we could convince someone to unlock the place and were often there in the afternoons well after school was over as well as many hours of class in-between.

For me, John Rodgers and our choir director Georgia Thomas were trusted adults who modeled leadership, passion for music, respect, humility and many other things. At our party, I noted that though there were perhaps a hundred of us gathered that evening, our numbers are indeed far more than that, we are indeed legion. Each year that I was in band we had something close to one hundred musicians carrying instruments along with many more majorettes, rifle girls, and flags (and Bill Dobbs, fellow Baritone player, as our Cardinal mascot). Over the years that John Rodgers was at Kenmore he invested himself in the lives of many hundreds of students, perhaps thousands. As we gathered that evening it was apparent that time had not stood still, we are all older, many of us have married and have children and now many of our children are inheriting our love of music.

As I shared, I concluded that in his own humble way, John Rodgers accomplished what people in science and politics and every other discipline dream of doing, he changed the world. John Rodgers changed the world but so did Georgia Thomas and so do teachers around the world every single day. We all remember these people because they changed us, they modeled life for us, they inspired us and they ignited a passion within us whether it was for music, or literature, or history or whatever.

I cannot ever thank John Rodgers or Georgia Thomas or Bill Muse, or any of my teachers enough for the gifts that they gave me…

…but there is something that I can do.

In the lives of every human being we are given the opportunity to invest in the lives of others. We are all given the chance to invest in something that reaches beyond the boundaries of today or this week’s paycheck. If we are to honor the people that invested their lives in us then we must answer the call to invest in others.

For me, I was compelled, over time, to teach others about the unimaginable gift of Jesus Christ and to expend my energies helping others spiritually as well as in other ways. For you it may not be John Rodgers, but today I ask that you remember who it was that influenced and inspired you. Maybe it was a teacher, a pastor, a coach, a university professor or it could be a parent, a grandparent, a police officer or even a janitor. Whoever it was for you, I hope that you will use that memory to drive you to invest in another generation.

If you’re a teacher, you can allow that memory to reinvigorate you and to rekindle your passion, but even if you’re not in a career where this is easy there are still lots of options. Choose someone who can benefit from your accumulated knowledge and experience and offer to mentor them. Instead of criticizing their youth and inexperience, take the time to teach them a better way (and listen for what they have to offer you as well). Volunteer in your community. Every ball field needs volunteer coaches and referees. Every scout troop that I’ve ever seen can always use anyone with a spare hour or two. Churches and synagogues and schools and soup kitchens everywhere need compassionate volunteers with a heart to serve others. Whatever it is, find a way to give back (or pay forward) the amazing gifts that you’ve been given. You can make a difference. You can make the world a better place.

Get out there and change the world.