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Parents fight back against on-line child predators

STOCKTON, Calif. (BP)–Cynthia Rea thought her child
was safe. The family attended Covenant Christian Fellowship
in Manteca, Calif. They home schooled their 16-year-old
daughter. And the girl was an honor student.
Then they got a computer and a connection to the
The family used no filtering software. Rea’s daughter,
Jamie, found a local chat room. And a 30-year-old pedophile
found the girl.
“This man came in and groomed my child and everything
turned upside down,” Rea explained. “Grooming is a word they
use when they’re molesting.”
The man convinced Rea’s daughter to leave home at night
for meetings. The girl got sexually involved.
“He came out to the house (and) said he was 20 years
old,” Rea recounted. “He had gray hair.”
The couple told the man to stay away from their
daughter. But the girl continued to leave home at night for
“The day she turned 17 they planned to run off and get
married,” Rea said.
She even sent the girl to live with other relatives in
an attempt to break up the relationship. Rea’s daughter
responded with slashed wrists and treatment in a psychiatric
“I don’t know if my child will ever be normal again,”
Rea said, lamenting, “Our children are being stolen from our
“The biggest problem facing parents now is not knowing
what to do,” explained Colin Hatcher with Cyber Angels, an
on-line safety organization.
“People call the Internet the schoolyard of the 21st
century,” Hatcher stated. “Distance means nothing.”
Last December, the computer industry sponsored an
on-line summit meeting in Washington to discuss the problem.
Advocacy groups like “Kids Safe” also participated. Jayne
Murphy Shapiro, Kids Safe president, said the numbers show a
— Each year 425,000 children are sexually abused in
the United States.
— 95 percent of those victims know the abuser.
— Each month more than 300 sex offenders are released
from California prisons alone.
“You can’t monitor your children 24 hours a day,”
Shapiro said. “It’s getting more dangerous.”
“There’s a huge network of pedophile organizations
that the Internet has brought together,” Hatcher noted.
“They’re very organized.”
Parents had few options before when they encountered
the problem. Now they can call a toll-free number to report
suspected child predators, 1-800-843-5678, at the National
Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
“In California alone, we have 67,000 registered sex
offenders,” Shapiro said. “When they get out on the
Internet, there’s no way to find them.”
According to USA Today, one in four Americans now use
the Internet. And the numbers are growing.
“You have to be careful,” advised Michael Adams,
author of “On Line Friendship, Chat Room Romance and Cyber
Sex.” “On-line people can lie easily and you wouldn’t know
“The adolescent population is particularly vulnerable.”
Software can help, such as “Cybersitter,” a filtering
program that blocks openly gay and lesbian sites.
Patty Cartwright, meanwhile, used technology to fight
back. She’s a mother in Federal Way, Wash., whose son was
molested by a friend of the family when he was 12 years old.
Cartwright didn’t know until three years later. Her
son developed psychological problems and required
hospitalization. Police arrested the suspect.
But they lacked evidence for a conviction. So,
Cartwright got a computer and learned that the man used
America Online to find other victims.
She got the same service and decided to pose as a
young gay man in an effort to provide police with more
“I found out where he was,” she recounted. America
Online has a “Buddy List” feature to contact other AOL
members, and Cartwright did that with the man’s screen name.
“He said hi first,” she recounted.
They traded information like age and hair color.
“He wanted to have sex,” Cartwright said. “He kept
wanting me to call him.”
She called the police instead. They encouraged her to
continue and set up a meeting. The man went with the
intentions of finding a young boy.
Undercover police arrested him at a mall, and he is
now serving an eight-year, three-month sentence.
His name was Otis Jerry Fellows and he was already on
probation for receiving child pornography through the mail.
“Mr. Fellows also volunteered as a ‘big brother’-type
person,” Cartwright said. “There must be more victims.
“He was a military man,” she added. “We thought this
was a credible person.”
Her son still suffers from psychological problems and
Cartwright continues to trap other child predators.
“As a mother, you would do anything” to fight against a
child’s abuse, she said.
Parents have several options when they suspect a child
— Call your local police or the FBI.
— Save all correspondence. It can be used as
— Check with your local service provider for
protection. America Online has parental controls that allows
subscribers to block e-mail, chat rooms and instant
On the Internet, on-line help is available from
Safeguarding Our Children-United Mothers at

    About the Author

  • Clay Renick