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Bemidji Women's Expo: Wetterling director talks online safety

Today, the Internet is only a click away, making the dangers of child online exploitation greater than ever. Cyber-bullying, camera phones and "sexting" are making it difficult for kids to separate online safety and personal body safety.

Often, the gap between what children can do online and what their parents know how to do online is big. Social networking sites, like MySpace and chat rooms, have created more ways for children and teens to put their likes, interests and photos up for anyone to see.

Unfortunately, those sites have also become a new way for sexual exploitation and missing children to occur.

"Even though talking about personal body safety and online safety is difficult to do, it is vital that the adults in a child's life talk about the subject, teach kids safety tips, supervise them when online and have ongoing, connecting conversations regarding personal safety and online safety regularly," said Nancy Sabin, executive director for the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center.

Sabin will present a seminar about the online gap between kids and their parents and communities and what can be done to stop it during the Bemidji Women's Expo at 11 a.m. Saturday at the John Glas Fieldhouse.

Sabin said that the Internet isn't the enemy to blame in child exploitation cases, but it has become a tool for victimizers to take advantage of children and teens online.

Abductions by non-family members have declined in the past 15 years, but one in every seven youth online (under 17) receives a sexual solicitation over the Web, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC).

Often, Sabin said, kids are "willingly" contacting or meeting victimizers because they grow to trust them or form relationships online. She stressed that exploitation of a child or a teen is never a child's fault.

With constant online access, teens can be completely accessible, and are sometimes convinced to meet with a "prospective employer" for modeling jobs because of their good looks or their writing ability.

Sabin said that the key to making greater communication about child online and personal body safety is through teachable moments.

Instead of telling a child to never go on the Internet because it's dangerous, Sabin suggested having a child talk with a parent about how to use the Web, or to help make a family Facebook profile, leaving an opportunity to ask questions about a child's online activity.

Sabin also suggested creating a Family Safety Night twice a year.

"Hold a Family Safety Night in your home. At least once a year, schools, faith-based organizations and communities should host a Safety Fair that educates the public and gives them resources about the best ways to prevent and reduce exploitation of kids," Sabin said.

For more tips, tools and resources, visit, or attend Sabin's seminar at the Women's Expo Saturday.