Online predators spike amid pandemic

It’s unthinkable and gut wrenching, but every year, thousands of children become victims of crimes--whether it’s through kidnappings, violent attacks, sexual abuse or online predators.

While the world has battled the health and economic effects of the coronavirus, another global and local issue has raged in tandem with little notice.

Online child abuses and exploitation, already one of the biggest and growing crime challenges nationally, has spiked as the pandemic has forced more people indoors with abusers and children spending more time on the internet.

The National Center For Missing and Exploited Children says it’s seen a 98% increase in online enticement reports since the pandemic began.

The same isolation being used to keep us safe during COVID is being exploited by people who are either abusing a domestic partner or spouse, or a young person in their care.

The COVID-19 pandemic has deeply affected every aspect of life across the globe; however, even before the pandemic struck, the sexual abuse and exploitation of children was an increasing threat that pervaded every area of the country.

At the same time, the lockdown measures have meant fewer opportunities for abuse to be noticed and reported by day care workers and schoolteachers. Children have been online now more than ever, and the online predators are taking advantage.

Livestreaming and the abundance of smartphone apps like TikTok, Whisper and Omegle, along with games such as Fortnite, Roblox, Call of Duty and the established popular platforms of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube, provide a massive online hunting ground for sexual predators who could be on the other side of the country or down the street.

Cyber exploitation is typically sexual in nature, and it can include anything from sexually suggestive messages to sending sexually explicit videos, or trying to lure a child offline to meet in real life.

The best way to prevent your child from becoming vulnerable to an online predator is open communication. Talking to your child about this very real danger online, especially in a way that will not scare them, is one way to help keep your child safe.

Make sure your kids know that people on the internet aren’t necessarily who, or the age they claim to be; children should never share any personal information; and they should only ‘friend’ people online they also know offline.

Parents should also be using safety programs and settings that allow them to restrict, limit and monitor their children’s offline activity. Older kids may still be able to figure out workarounds though, so it’s incredibly important to have expressive and truthful conversations about internet safety.

Red Flags

The most common tactics used to entice children include:

• Engaging in sexual conversation/role playing as a grooming method, rather than a goal.

• Asking the child for sexually explicit images of themselves or mutually sharing images.

• Developing a rapport through compliments, discussing shared interests or “liking” their online post, also known as grooming.

• Sending or offering sexually explicit images of themselves.

• Pretending to be younger.

• Offering an incentive such as a gift card, alcohol, drugs, lodging, transportation or food.

Risk Factors

Certain online behaviors may increase the risk for online enticement and becoming a victim of sextortion. These behaviors include:

• Lying about being older in order to access certain platforms which would allow communication with older individuals.

• Initiating online communication and/or offering an exchange with offenders, such as requesting financial compensation, alcohol/drugs, gifts, etc. for sexually explicit content of oneself.

• Sending explicit photos or videos (known as “sexts”) of oneself to another user.

To make a CyberTipline Report, visit report.cybertip.org

Or contact the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office:

24 Hours: 256-845-3801

Crime Tip: 256-845-3801

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