For the past couple of months, time has seemed to stand still, as we all spend most of our time at home. In response, sexual predators have left the streets and arcades and moved to using the internet to prey on young people.
On April 23, 2020, Virginia detectives put together a task force called Operation Covid Crackdown that resulted in 30 individuals being arrested for online child solicitation. In 2018, 52 percent of the criminal human trafficking cases active in the U.S. were sex trafficking cases involving children.
Technology has drastically changed our lives, especially while we're under the "safer at home" mandate. Many children have been in a vulnerable state, and that's coupled with other mental health concerns.
- Sam Wordley | Dreamstime.com
- Internet safety is more important than ever.
Predators are well aware that millions of children around the globe are at home due to the current pandemic. The internet has long made it easy for predators to disguise their identity. Many will portray themselves as just another high school student, bummed about being stuck home.
So the question is how can you keep your child safe from a disguised and deceptive online predator?
As with mental health, online child solicitation is not talked about very much in most households. Predators often seek children who are struggling with low self-esteem or appear to not have friends. They can pick up on these cues from reading children's social media posts. It's healthy to initiate a conversation with your child about the risk of sharing their personal information online. Make sure your child understands that adults, young adults, and teenagers can pretend to be younger or fake a similar mindset as their victims.
As a parent, you need to set clear expectations. Let's face it — even as adults we are protective of our phones. Pre-adolescents and teenagers can often show resistance when it comes to parents checking in. Have a family meeting to set clear expectations about what your child should be posting in chat rooms. It's helpful to show them news articles about online predators in order to make expectations realistic.
And there needs to be a clear open door policy. Children often feel ashamed to talk about certain topics from fear of being judged or outcast. Make it clear to your child that he or she can talk to you about anything. The important thing with an open door policy is that parents have to name "anything." It's okay to say words/phrases like "naked photos," "sexual conversation," "private chats."
Here are some apps every parent should be monitoring: TikTok, WhatsApp, Tumblr, Snapchat, Instagram, Omegle, Reddit, and Wattpad.
If your child encounters a predator, it is important that you don't blame him or her or become negatively reactive. Tell your child you are proud of their honesty and willingness to talk. Immediately take screenshots of messages and photos, report the user on the social media platform, and contact your local child abuse hotline.
Natasha D. Bonner, MS, NCC, is a Memphis-based clinical psychotherapist.
Call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or chat online at hotline.rainn.org/online.
Call the National Child Abuse Hotline at 800-4-A-CHILD (2-24453), which is available every day and around the clock.
To contact the Human Trafficking Hotline: call 1-888-373-7888, text 233733, or chat online.