I hadn’t planned on becoming an international leader in Internet child protection. I began as a mother and lawyer. Protecting other people’s children came later.
My Internet safety career started a few years after the Web was launched, when I was asked to appear on CNN and talk about Internet censorship and law. Miles O’Brien (a CNN host) asked me about what parents could do to protect their children online. As a result of my interview, thousands of parents and grandparents called me asking me how to keep their children safe. I explained that I protected corporations in cyberspace, not children. But they kept calling anyway. So I called my sister, a pediatrician, and asked her to recommend a book for these parents to read.
Unfortunately, we were surprised to learn that there were no books at that time on this topic. So, she asked me to write one. I refused, pleading that I was too busy as a lawyer to write for parents. She told me that if I didn’t write the book, she would refer this to a higher authority – our mother! She did. And my first book was published six months later, in 1997.
But what really changed my life is the image of a little 3-1/2 year old girl I discovered in 1998. I had just started running WiredSafety.org (under its former name), when someone from Argentina sent me an e-mail reporting a child pornography website, and asking me to shut it down and help bring the pedophiles to justice. I clicked on the link to the website and saw a picture of this little girl being raped. I was devastated by what I saw, and devoted many years trying to find her and save her from this horrible torture. I was never able to find and save her, but I was able to find and save others.
I shut down my law firm and sold my house to help fund our programs, and never looked back. I realized that out of everything I do, protecting children and helping parents understand how to keep them safe, is the most important. I now donate most of my time to protecting children and their families in cyberspace and on mobile technologies. I founded and donate my time to running the world’s largest and oldest Internet safety group, WiredSafety.org. Through its thousands of unpaid volunteers operating from their home and office computers around the world, WiredSafety.org provides a helping hand to everyone who needs one online. We work closely with law enforcement agencies around the world to help bring cyber-criminals to justice and protect all children, not just our own. And we teach parents what they need to know to take an active role in protecting their children online.
What started gradually and unplanned, has become my life. And it is a richer and more fulfilling life than I would have had running an international law firm and living in a big house in the United States. I now count my successes one child at a time.