Child predators love the stay at home order.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced almost all children to be exposed to more online communication than what they have been used to. Spending more time in the virtual world can leave children at all ages, genders and colors vulnerable to online sexual exploitation as predators take full advantage of the stay at home order. Kids are now using digital technology as, pretty much, the only way of keeping themselves connected to friends and teachers for learning, entertainment and some sort of connection. Not all kids know how to keep themselves safe online.
As a mom of two boys, I make sure that our firewall is secure and that our privacy settings are updated. But all that “protection” means nothing if the predator is invited into my son’s virtual world as a friend or a friend of a friend. And believe me, these cyber stalkers are smart. They know precisely how to gain trust and maneuver their way into your child’s life organically.
“Under the shadow of COVID-19, the lives of millions of children have temporarily shrunk to just their homes and their screens” said Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The lack of face-to-face contact with friends may lead to heightened risk-taking, such as sending sexualized images and also there is a greater risk of cyberbullying.
Parents may think there is no harm in their children partaking in direct messaging or group chats, but stalkers are using this, and other digital opportunities to build on our children’s trust and to exploit their vulnerabilities. Once the child trusts this person, they will unknowingly share personal information such as if they are sad or if they have any pictures to share. The trafficker will slowly build a profile of vulnerabilities and a plan to exploit.
The trafficker is only interested in making money. He may plan to “take” their prey after the pandemic lifts and the kids swarm to the malls or parks. Or he may coerce your lonely daughter to send him videos that he can sell online. Most kids won’t know that they are being groomed for human trafficking.
Human trafficking is a growing problem worldwide
- 2nd most common criminal activity behind the illegal drug trade
- 40 million + victims of human trafficking worldwide
- 3 million victims right here in the US
- 300,000 US children are at risk for child trafficking before COVID-19
- 5 billion children and young people affected by school closures worldwide that are all online for most of the day because of COVID-19
What can be done to keep kids safe?
- Talk to your kids about the possible personas of predators
They will seem overly friendly, and in some cases, the predators may even be people that the child knows.
- Predators are not just on social media, but also in the gaming world.
Games like Fortnite are great for playing with friends because there is a chat and voice function, but these same functions will be used by predators to gain your child’s trust.
- Use digital devices in a common area.
Check-in on your kids sporadically to monitor who is talking to them.
- Get to know the list of apps that predators have the most success at.
Knowledge is power. This app list changes frequently, so check it many times and compare the list to your child’s phone or ipad apps.
This pandemic is extremely hard on your kids. They have been thrown into a brand-new routine that is foreign to them – which drives them to actively looking for someone familiar to talk to each day. With increased internet usage comes an increased risk of encountering sexual predators online. The most important thing for parents to do is to have open and honest conversations with their family about risks, how to minimize exposure and how to handle dangerous situations. The hard part for parents will be to find the right blend of your child’s need to for connection and your child’s need for safety.
As the Founder and CEO of World For Good, Jennifer Moreau-Chick helps readers learn about how to elevate social and environmental sustainability in the business community so companies can differentiate themselves from their competitors. She has been featured in Conscious Company Magazine as a leader in social impact and has worked as a Marketing Director for 3 certified B Corporations for the past four years. Visit her blog here.