Although the law enforcement community have found themselves stretched to the limit as a result of being a major part of the Coronavirus first-response protocols — while preserving their own freedom from contagion of the deadly virus that as of Monday killed over 10,000 victims throughout the United States — federal, state and local police agencies must be cognizant of other dangerous by-products of the current national state of emergency.
For example, as a result of mandatory school closings caused by COVID-19, children will increase their Internet use which will increased their vulnerability and risk. As the lead federal agency handling cyber crime including child sexual abuse, the FBI is warning parents, educators, caregivers, and children about the dangers of online sexual exploitation and signs of child abuse, according to a FBI/Justice Department report received by police and sheriffs’ departments as well as police unions and fraternal organizations such as the National Association of Chiefs of Police.
Internet sexual exploitation includes adults who coerce their prey into sharing sexually explicit images or videos of themselves, often in compliance with offenders’ threats to post the images publicly or send the images to victims’ friends and family.
Other offenders who have gained experience may easily communicate with children online, gain their trust, and introduce sexual conversation that increases in egregiousness over time. Ultimately this activity may result in maintaining an online relationship that includes sexual conversation and the exchange of illicit images, to secretly meeting the child in-person.
In order for the victimization to stop, children typically have to come forward to someone they trust—typically a parent, teacher, caregiver, or law enforcement. The embarrassment of being enticed and/or coerced to engage in unwanted behavior is what often prevents children from coming forward.
Serious offenders may have hundreds of victims throughout the world, so coming forward to help law enforcement identify offenders may prevent countless other incidents of sexual exploitation.
“Abuse can occur offline through direct contact with another individual. During these uncertain conditions, where time with other adults and caregivers has increased immensely, parents/guardians should communicate with their children about appropriate contact with adults and watch for any changes in behavior, including an increase in nightmares, withdrawn behavior, angry outbursts, anxiety, depression, not wanting to be left alone with an individual, and sexual knowledge,” states the FBI’s Washington, D.C. headquarters.
Progressive pandemic response: Free imprisoned diabetic sex offenders; meanwhile, people are being threatened with jail for going outside without permission.
Parents and legal guardians should take the following steps to prevent children and teenagers from becoming victims of child predators and sexual exploitation during this time of a national medical emergency:
Online Child Exploitation
- Discuss Internet safety with children of all ages when they engage in online activity.
- Review and approve games and apps before they are downloaded.
- Make sure privacy settings are set to the strictest level possible for online gaming systems and electronic devices.
- Monitor your children’s use of the Internet; keep electronic devices in an open, common room of the house.
- Check your children’s profiles and what they post online.
- Explain to your children that images posted online will be permanently on the Internet.
- Make sure children know that anyone who asks a child to engage in sexually explicit activity online should be reported to a parent, guardian, or other trusted adult and law enforcement.
- Remember that victims should not be afraid to tell law enforcement if they are being sexually exploited. It is not a crime for a child to send sexually explicit images to someone if they are compelled or coerced to do so.
Child Abuse Awareness
- Teach your children about body safety and boundaries.
- Encourage your children to have open communication with you.
- Be mindful of who is watching your child for childcare/babysitting, playdates and overnight visits.
- If your child discloses abuse, immediately contact local law enforcement for assistance.
- Children experiencing hands-on abuse may exhibit withdrawn behavior, angry outbursts, anxiety, depression, not wanting to be left alone with a specific individual, non-age appropriate sexual knowledge, and an increase in nightmares.
Reporting suspected sexual exploitation can help minimize or stop further victimization, as well as lead to the identification and rescue of other possible victims. If you believe you are—or someone you know is—the victim of child sexual exploitation:
- Contact your local law enforcement agency.
- Contact your local FBI field office or submit a tip online at tips.fbi.gov.
- File a report with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) at 1-800-843-5678 or online at www.cybertipline.org.