Keeping kids safe from Internet predators

The exploitation of children is big business these days. Just ask Michelle Collins.

As the executive director of Exploited Children Services at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Alexandria, Va., Collins makes it her business to keep up on the latest tactics of adults who exploit kids, especially through sexually abusive images.

With more than 1,500 active Web sites displaying exploitive pictures of children, the center finds it difficult to keep up with exploiters, who don’t stay in one place on the Internet too long.

Collins addressed the Anglophone Conference 2008 last week at U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ HQ in Washington. The annual four-day gathering gives church representatives from the English-speaking world a chance to learn from each other on best practices in the prevention of child sexual abuse. Describing ways that responsible adults can keep ahead of those who exploit for profit or for personal gratification, Collins said the technology of the Internet is the primary tool of choice on both sides.

A major push is being made to get the major Internet companies to deny access to anyone who tries to put up such images, Collins said. But cooperation is often difficult because the companies cite First Amendment protections of free speech.

Collins offered information on several Internet safety resources that come out of the center where parents, concerned adults and children can get more information:

NetSmartz411.org:  Aimed at parents and guardians to answer questions about Internet safety, computers and the Web. Also lists Web sites of danger to children.

NetSmartz.org: Has games and activities that teach kids about what to watch out for as they use the Internet.

Cyber Tipline: Allows users to report incidents of child exploitation. Also can reach by calling (800) 843-5678.

Child Victim Identification Program:  CVIP is a national clearinghouse for child-pornography cases across the country and the main point of contact to international agencies about child-pornography victims.

The sites offer quite an education. Anyone unfamiliar with the dangers child exploitation would do well to check them out.

“I’m really annoyed at these journalists”

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attends the World Food Security Summit in Rome June 3. (CNS/Reuters) VATICAN CITY — The Vatican has a collective thick skin, and tends to ignore journalistic sloppiness or sensationalism. But it was a bit too much, even for the cool-headed diplomats in the Apostolic Palace, to see headlines like “Pope Benedict avoids meeting with Iran’s President Ahmadinejad.”

That was the spin some media put on the fact that Pope Benedict XVI was not holding a private audience with Ahmadinejad or other heads of state who are in Rome this week for a global food summit. A papal encounter with Ahmadinejad, high-level Vatican sources told me today, was never in the works. The reason was that too many of the world leaders attending the food summit were asking for a papal meeting, and in such cases the pope politely declines them all.

That’s not new — it’s been the Vatican’s policy for the last three years to avoid these kind of revolving-door VIP papal encounters during international conferences. But the story line in much of the mainstream media (unfortunately picked up by some Catholic outlets) was that the pope was so desperate to avoid hosting Ahmadinejad that he canceled meetings with everyone.

“I’m really annoyed at these journalists. Where do they come up with this?” one usually imperturbable Vatican source told me today. He emphasized that the Vatican’s general policy of “meeting with everyone” has not changed, and that the issues here were strictly practical.

The Vatican Press Office also issued a statement today, lamenting the “journalistic inferences that have been circulating” and reiterating that the pope was not meeting with the heads of state or heads of government simply because there were too many requests. It said the Vatican had written to each one, explaining the policy and offering the prospect of a papal meeting on a future occasion.

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