Local News

Internet Predators Leave Parents Wondering How To Protect Their Children

Posted September 3, 2003

— Many parents may not know what to do if an Internet predator targeted their child. It is a problem that may be much larger than people realize.


Crimes Against Children Research Center

reports 20 percent of U.S. teens who regularly use the Internet say they got an unwanted sexual advance on the Web. Seventy-seven percent of the teens were 14 or older. Only 25 percent of the targeted children were upset about it enough to tell their parents.

In the most recent local case, a former sheriff's sergeant was in court this week, accused of luring a young Harnett County girl over the Internet. Michael Iannone, of Pensacola, Fla., is charged with taking indecent liberties with a minor and disseminating obscenity to a minor.

Investigators said Iannone got the 14-year-old victim to send him nude pictures. He reportedly sent her pictures of nude men. He was arrested in Florida last week and brought to Harnett County to face charges.

The case has parents asking what they can do to ensure their children are safe on the Internet. There are some common sense things they can do -- like keeping an eye on the kids and their computers. But sometimes even that is hard to do because kids are on their computers a lot.

Robert Pully is 13 years old and does not care much for Internet chat rooms and strange Web sites. He uses his computer for schoolwork and football scores.

"To see if UNC won," he said.

To Robert, the computer is an innocent tool, but one that often is being used for not-so-innocent purposes -- against kids like Robert.

"It definitely is a form of child abuse," said Becky Wrisley, of

Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina.

Child abuse via cyberspace. Wrisley said parents should find a safe space to put their computer.

"Don't have the computer in an office in the back of the house," she said. "Don't have the computer in a child's bedroom. Keep it somewhere where there is a high traffic pattern, so that you know what your child is doing."

Pully's computer is in his bedroom. His mother, Gale, is often over his shoulder.

"We just have not had any problems with the computer, and all three of my sons have one," Gale Pully said. "It just has been a helpful tool."

Computers can cause more harm than good in many other homes.

"It is a big problem, a very big problem and very serious," Wrisley said. "Anytime your child is on the Internet, you need to think of them as being in a public place. You need to take steps to ensure they are safe."

There are other things parents can do. Parental controls, for example, keep the child from receiving instant messages. They can block certain types of e-mail and limit what kind of Web pages kids can access.

Just call your service provider, America Online, for example, and it will install the controls.

There also are helpful Web sites parents can use as a resource, like

Safe Kids



Parents can watch for warning signs that their children could be at risk online:

  • Be aware if the child spends long periods on the computer, especially at night,
  • if they find pornography on their child's computer,
  • and if the child withdraws from the family.
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