- The Washington Times - Monday, April 16, 2007

Grandmother R. Stephanie Good can pass for a teenager. She hasn’t had surgery, but by using

a few misspellings and text abbreviations in an Internet chat room, Mrs. Good can make anyone believe she’s 13.

With a youthful voice that is as convincing as her on-screen persona, Mrs. Good is the FBI’s secret weapon, working as a civilian to help them catch men stalking the Internet for children to abuse.

“The FBI guys might go home at 5 [p.m.], but I can keep going. If [Internet predators] only see people online 9 to 5 Monday to Friday, they get suspicious,” said Mrs. Good, who logs on to Internet chat rooms to pose as prey.

Logged on as her teen alter ego, Teen2Hot4u, Mrs. Good waits in chat rooms on the Internet and is approached by men seeking sex with underage girls. She says taking such predators off the street is her reward.

“There are so many children that aren’t going to go through the pain enforced on them once these guys get to me,” she said. “It’s going to be their last step. It gives me a great sense of satisfaction.”

The men she encounters online are explicit about what they want from her.

“They have no qualms in telling me what they would like to do to me,” she said. “Sometimes, I just want to come back at them and say, ‘You disgusting pervert,’ but everything these guys say is going to be used in court as evidence. It’s almost like when they say something very specific, I’m sitting there cheering, ‘Great, dig yourself deeper.’ ”

Mrs. Good’s volunteer work for the FBI has led to the arrest and federal conviction of dozens of sexual offenders. She emphasizes that she is careful to avoid anything that could be considered entrapment, which defense attorneys for offenders have sometimes argued, so far unsuccessfully. “I’m not entrapping them. I’ve never lost a guy I’ve testified against,” Mrs. Good said.

After working with the FBI for three years, Mrs. Good recounts her experiences posing as a young girl online in a new book, “Exposed: The Harrowing Story of a Mother’s Undercover Work With the FBI to Save Children From Internet Sex Predators.”

Her book offers advice to parents on how to deal with the dangers that lurk in cyberspace: “Parents need to keep track of what their children are doing on the Internet, and every kid needs to know that they could be prey on the Internet. They should be educated in school about the dangers.”

The student government association at Rockville’s Thomas S. Wootton High School is leading the way in education programs to promote Internet safety with a project that shocked even the most Internet savvy in the student body.

The group set up a profile at the popular social-networking site Facebook for a fictional student, “Trevor” — with no more than a picture and a few personal details — and watched as 500 students requested to be his “friend” and made numerous requests for face-to-face meetings.

“Initiating this contact sounds safe, but when these predators trawl the Internet, they use the same ideas,” said Michael Doran, the school’s head teacher.

“It wasn’t a matter of trying to catch the kids out — it was demonstrating the amount of trust that students place on that kind of contact where they could be meeting a stranger,” Mr. Doran said. “The students found it was even more scary than they thought. They knew they would get some friend requests, but the number and ease of it shocked even the [student government].”

Cami Clarkson, who is on the student government association, said the Trevor project opened the eyes of students to the dangers of the Internet.

“It made a big impact. A lot of students privatized their profile afterward,” she said. “We didn’t want to completely discourage Internet use. We wanted to educate people about the dangers of using it too freely, because everyone can see what you’re writing.”

Social-networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace, which feature self-created content, including photos and videos, have ushered in a “next phase” of Internet predators, said Parry Aftab, executive director of WiredSafety.org.

“This next phase of Internet use poses real challenges. … How do we police something when we don’t know who people are, their ages or where they’re from? There are parents who are totally clueless about what’s going on,” said Ms. Aftab, whose site helps parents protect their children on the Internet.

Ms. Aftab says parents are often unaware that Internet predators often do not fit the pedophile profile. “Most of them see what they’re doing as ‘dating young.’ It’s not the person in the black [raincoat], who hasn’t shaved and hangs around the school playground.”

In many cases, online predators are “upper-class, professional men, decent members of the community — the kind of people you don’t suspect.”

Many of the predators Ms. Aftab encounters perceive themselves as choosing from a new pool of people they can have sex with who do not carry sexually transmitted diseases.

“They are reaching kids before they have got STDs and before they are totally blase about sex,” she said. “This is not a small section of society who are mentally ill. This is a large section of the population, predominantly men, who would never dream of having sex with a child.”

While the actual number of Internet-related abuses is impossible to know because so many go unreported, Ms. Aftab said that 25 percent of the thousands of students she sees each month admit to having met someone in real life that they knew previously only online. Almost all have been approached in sexually suggestive ways while online, she said.

“Many instances we never hear about until they’re killed or kidnapped because so many kids will never tell if they have met or been abused by someone through the Internet because they feel responsible somehow,” she said.

WiredSafety.org is currently preparing for the July debut of WiredMoms.com, which Ms. Aftab says will be a “cyber-army of moms” across the United States, Canada and Britain — a social-networking site to allow parents to support each other and discuss Internet safety for their children.

“We know social-networking sites are crucial for kids’ lives, but if we can teach parents how to be up on this issue then, it will make the kids think that we’re still in charge,” she said. “We’ll swap advice on protecting our children just like we swap recipes or discuss when to start them playing football.”

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