Keeping children safe while they are online

District Attorney Summer Stephan

The pandemic has shifted life for everyone over the last year, but perhaps one of the most vulnerable groups include chil­dren, who are spending more time than ever online. Through everyday scrolling, online gam­ing and Zoom learning, preda­tors have unprecedented ac­cess to kids. With the so much dependence on technology and the web, children are increas­ingly at risk of befriending strangers online.

Pre-pandemic, we have been able to count on educators to act as law enforcement’s eyes and ears, noticing some of the signs that a student is being abused at home or sexually ex­ploited by a trafficker. Now that children are stuck mostly at home, here are tips on why we should worry about unlimited web access and what to look for as a red flag.

Why we should worry:

  • Just because kids are not physically in school during the pandemic’s stay-at-home pub­lic health order, does not mean they aren’t at risk of being re­cruited into the world of human trafficking.
  • Students are a captive audi­ence for would-be traffickers, who make contact on social media.
  • Students are more sus­ceptible than before to sexual exploitation because teachers and school staff can’t make the same observations as they would in person.
  • Reports of technology-based exploitation have tripled to the National Center for Miss­ing and Exploited Children amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Even though it’s a tough topic, parents and guardians must educate children on the pitfalls to prevent them from falling victim to predators.

Red flags that should be tak­en seriously include:

  • Secretive behavior with on­line activities.
  • Hiding what is on their computer screens.
  • Out of sight or behind a closed door when online.
  • Vague talk of making new friends with little to no details.
  • Agitated behavior when an­swering their phone or needing to take calls in private.
  • Sneaking out of the house or being untruthful about who they are with and where they have been.
  • Attempting to look older with clothing or makeup.
  • Getting home later than agreed upon.
  • Unexplained expensive gifts, money or clothing.

What can parents and guard­ians do to keep their children safe?

  • 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, phones and other devices.
  • Monitor your child’s use of the Internet and keep comput­ers in a non-private room.
  • Explain that images posted online most likely will remain on the internet permanently.
  • Teach your child about per­sonal boundaries and aware­ness of their surroundings.
  • Encourage open child-par­ent communication around In­ternet safety.

As we mark Human Traffick­ing Awareness Month, I want parents and guardians to know they are on the frontlines when it comes to child abuse and ex­ploitation. It’s up to the adults to help children understand the risks they may face and make them feel comfortable reporting victimization or abuse.

As your District Attorney, I’m committed to increasing com­munication and accessibility between the DA’s Office and the public. I hope these con­sumer and public safety tips have been helpful.

Keeping children safe while they are online

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