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Parents, other adults, need to understand tactics of online sex trades

Published: Saturday, Jan. 28 2012 7:02 p.m. MST

Donna Rice Hughes, president of Enough is Enough, gives a presentation on Internet safety at the Power of Prevention Critical Issues Conference in West Valley City on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2012.

Steve Fidel, Deseret News

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WEST VALLEY CITY — The bad guys are always steps ahead of the good guys online, making an awareness of the way the online sex trades and sexual predators work vitally important to parents.

"They're always on the cutting edge. They've usually got plenty of money, and they've got a consumable product that's highly addictive," said Donna Rice Hughes, president of Virginia-based Enough is Enough, which introduced its "Internet Safety 101" training materials in Utah Saturday.

The DVD and workbook-based materials are geared toward parents and organizations, like the PTA, interested in the well-being of children. Enough is Enough makes many of its educational resources available online, sells its materials online and is distributing 2,500 copies of the materials in Utah free using a $2.5 million grant that also pays for training.

From iPads and smartphone to video gaming consoles, the number of devices giving access to the Internet continues to grow. But the threats to children are identified well enough that the best tool for protection is awareness.

"Our whole program is prevention," Hughes said in an interview. The goal is to take every Internet-abled device and determine what measures are needed to keep children safe.

She calls today's youths "digital natives" and their parents "digital immigrants." Parents are unaware of most of the threats their children face online, Hughes said.

"They have a tendency to think their kids are immune. They have heard that there's pornography on the Internet or that there are predators or cyberbullying, but most think it's somebody else's kid and that 'it can't happen to our child.' They are really shocked to find out the kinds of pornography that kids are getting addicted to online. That's a shocker and an eye opener."

Hughes' organization relays telling statistics from sources documented on its website: Seven out of 10 youths have accidentally come across pornography online; nearly 80 percent of unwanted exposure to pornography is taking place in the home while another 9 percent occurs at school; and 40 percent of kids' unwanted exposure to sexual material online results from an innocent word search.

"Eye opening" is the way Kirsten Davis described Hughes' two-hour presentation Saturday at the 14th annual Power of Prevention Critical Issues Conference. She and Laurie White and Natalie Casper all have LDS Church callings as stake Young Women leaders, and attended the conference on assignment from church leaders.

"Just as a parent, I felt like I should be here," White said. "We have every protection we know of in place at home. I'll be thinking about how it's most appropriate to use this," she said of Saturday's awareness training.

"My mind is going through the processes they've described," said Casper, whose children range in age from 18 to 26, "and how contentious it can be when you start setting limitations."

The Internet safety training was one of many facets of the 14th annual Power of Prevention conference, which included training for community groups and some just for law enforcement. Topics also included Neighborhood Watch, the debate over legalizing marijuana, new DARE curriculum training and updates on Mexican drug cartels.

Tibby Milne, chief executive officer of the Utah Council for Crime Prevention, said about 1,000 people attended training sessions during the conference, which ran from Monday through Saturday.

E-mail: sfidel@desnews.com, Twitter: SteveFidel

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