Child safety kit updates and new text alert system for families of the missing unveiled.
Heidi Search Center has updated their child safety ID kits with a new feature, Digital DNA, listing all social media information about the child. This addition to the standard ID kits allows authorities to find up to date information in the event a child goes missing.
Executive Director of Heidi Search Center, Dottie Laster, says, “Most young children, and even college age children, do not understand the schemes and tactics used by predators. The information you and your family share online may be similar to giving them the key to your front door.”
Laster has been speaking and training others about cyber security methods. The new Digital DNA addition to the child ID kits will take cyber safety to a new level. Continuing to talk with parents, she hopes this new awareness will help in the prevention of their children going missing.
Another new feature being rolled out is a text alert system. Laster says, “Text the keyword ‘Heidi’ to 56274 to opt in to receive updates and alerts for the missing, as well as news on upcoming events, by text. This system will enable families and interested parties to be informed of available information.” The mobile service is provided by YellowRoseRewards.Com.
In her latest article, What Parents Need to Know About the Internet, Dottie Laster explains in detail the challenges faced by, not only families, but those who support and search for missing persons.
Using her years of experience working in the field of human trafficking, Laster has been able to be at the intersection of the missing, abducted and trafficked. Her goal is to use prevention measures to keep children, and adults, from being in the grip of those who exploit them through sex and labor trafficking.
Heidi Search Center was created 25 years ago in honor of Heidi Seeman who went missing from San Antonio and was subsequently found murdered. The organization has several fund-raising events lined up for participation with community members who have been giving generously.
For information about upcoming events, donations and personal support for missing persons and families, contact Heidi Search Center, 4115 Naco Perrin Blvd., San Antonio, TX 78217. Phone: 210-650-0428, Website: HeidiSearchCenter.Com
A look back to how it used to be
When I was a child we had 3 TV channels and two of them were snow. Taking photos meant taking film to be developed by Kodak and waiting a week or more to be processed. We did not have call waiting, call forwarding or even caller ID. The closest thing we had to the internet was a set of World Book Encyclopedias, a very expensive set of books that all parents invested in to ensure their children had access to knowledge and could do their homework.
I was taught to never confirm our address over the phone and to not provide any information about our home, or my parents, to anyone who called that I did not know personally, and to NEVER, even to trusted friends, disclose whether I was home alone.
My father worked, my mother took care of me and had many social and community activities. She got me ready for school and was home when the school bus dropped me off in the afternoon. I would watch Gilligan’s Island and Leave it To Beaver. Eddie Haskell was such a stinker and was probably the closest thing to a bad guy that ever entered my consciousness. I played outside, climbed trees, rode horses, and all the neighborhood adults watched out for all the kids, not just their own family.
Bad things happened back then, too
One sunny afternoon, I answered the phone and a male voice which I thought I recognized from church called and began saying very ugly, gross and repulsive sexual things to me. I didn’t know what to say or do as this had never happened to me before. I must have looked shocked because my mom saw my face, took the phone from me and hung up. I remember being sad because this man had ruined my beautiful day of riding my horses. I felt sick to my stomach when my mind kept re-playing his voice and his words. I was deeply disturbed by his call for the rest of that day and 2 more days. I was afraid I would see him somewhere and I was concerned as to why such bad things could be on this earth. I was even afraid to go to church. Luckily, it never happened again and I returned to normal quickly.
The day we received our World Book Encyclopedias, I sat for hours looking at photos and reading about amazing things a world away. Now, in an instant, I could read and learn about anything, anywhere in the world.
I now see such a different society for children. Not better or worse but definitely different.
How it is in today’s world
We are connected all the time. Children are connected, not just by a landline phone as I was, but through many applications of the internet, cell phone and cameras. We thrive on instant- instant connection, data downloads, responses and information, information, information! Our phones can do anything, find any answer, move mountains of data, save screenshots, and forward with just a click and send.
Without a request, our locations, preferences, order history, and more are sent to places we don’t even know are watching our habits, behaviors and social connections. Apps like Snap Chat, KIK, OVOO, Periscope and more are connecting people, places, images and conversations instantly and often leaving no trace.
These days, people like that man who called and disrupted my beautiful day can reach out with limitless access to information.
Children in today’s world, with unlimited access to knowledge and information, may not be aware of how the information they post and share can be used by someone who is gathering it to use for harm to them, or their family. Most young children, and even college age children, do not understand the schemes and tactics used by predators. The information you and your family share online may be similar to giving them the key to your front door.
As a child, I was in shock and didn’t know what to do as I was receiving that man’s gross fantasy, even though my mom was just a few feet away, I froze. I now understand that my child brain couldn’t hear him and at the same time formulate an effective escape. Imagine if he was also sending me images, telling me he saw me come home from school, threatening to hurt my mother! I would have been taken much further down his dark road.
The present challenge
If our children are on the internet through online gaming, Facebook apps or other social media, they will be targeted. It’s not a question of if, but how many times.
As the Executive Director of Heidi Search Center I receive calls for help daily because a child has gone missing or is being targeted online. The number of predators looking for children is so numerous that we have to wade through them each time to find the missing person.
Parents and guardians are faced with many challenges that are vastly different from when my parents raised me. A young mind having access to instant information is amazing and beautiful, however, without protection it’s like giving the key to your home to every predator, con artist and schemer around the world.
Children are rightly confident that they can do so much more on the internet than their parents, however, this hubris from them is false. While they can make the internet bend to their will and do what they want, they don’t have the life experience or understanding about the evils that await them online. They don’t have knowledge of how a predator moves rapidly from the virtual world to reality in a flash.
One example, a child who was restricted from the internet by her parents due to messages they thought were inappropriate, went to visit her aunt who let her use the computer. The adult male she was speaking with through texting apps mailed an iPod to her aunt’s house where no one knew she had received the device.
She began communicating and sending him photos of herself. She soon went missing, but he was arrested because he was found with illicit images of her on his phone, although she wasn’t with him. We went to two more adults, who were also arrested, before finding her in a very desolate place where there was no internet.
She has since returned to her family, however, her parents and family expended all their resources looking for her. Jobs, money, time, emotion; the damage was extensive, relationships were damaged, lives and careers altered.
Siblings are often traumatized and become fearful for their own safety, overly concerned for their parents, as well as the missing person. Parents cannot sleep, eat, work, pay bills or even attend necessary appointments while their child is missing.
Teachers, friends, peers, and even people the missing person doesn’t know are all affected adversely.
A Psychology Today report claimed that when a loved one goes missing the trauma caused is more painful than death. “The pain of your child dying is incredible, but losing a child to estrangement is unbearable, it hurts so, so much more.” A quote from a mother of twins, one who died of cancer and the other who was estranged.
Children, adults, and minors need to understand the dangers of the internet and the ways that predators use different apps to their advantage. Children also need to understand the pain caused by their absence, whether their idea or someone else’s. They must adapt to the use of technology in an informed way.
Parents need to be educated and informed so they can make appropriate parenting decisions. It will not do to be absent from social media and ignorant of the ways it’s intertwined in their children’s lives. To do so is to invite pain suffering and predators into your life.
Dottie Laster is the Executive Director of Heidi Search Center and is also affiliated with the non-profit Bernardo Kohler Center where she is accredited to practice immigration law. She heads their Casita program and Save One Soul outreach.
Laster is featured in the documentary on sex trafficking in Latin bars and cantinas, The Cantinera, and her direct rescue work is the subject of the MSNBC Documentary, Sex Slaves: Texas Rescue. She is the recipient of several human rights awards and has been featured in numerous publications including recent issues of Texas Monthly, Town Hall, and MORE Magazine.
She is the CEO of Laster Global Consulting, has consulted in several high-profile trafficking cases, and has been directly and indirectly responsible for the rescue and restoration of hundreds of trafficking victims. Her strong multi-disciplinary team has an established track record and provide project development, consultancy, and training resources in domestic and international trafficking.
To schedule trainings in your community and become involved in making your area safe for victims and their families, and hostile to traffickers, contact ImaginePublicity at 843-808-0859 or email firstname.lastname@example.org