Transitioning to a new calendar year spurs many of us to be more mindful of positive change and focus on developing new, healthier habits or life skills. For parents, this annual phenomenon represents a perfect opportunity to lay the groundwork for an open and ongoing conversation with our kids about the potential dangers of online sexual predators.
Talk to Your Kids About Using Tech Safely
Parents naturally wish that there was no need to address this topic, but unfortunately, ignoring the problem will never make it go away––it will only leave your child vulnerable. Sexual predators are relentless and will use any means at their disposal to find their next victim, including online grooming, sextortion, and luring kids to real-life meetings. A typical online predator is in the process of grooming 10 or more victims at a time.
Considering the fact that in 2024 even very young children spend increasing amounts of time online or on connected devices, it’s more crucial than ever to ensure children aren’t at undue risk of being exploited by these dangerous individuals.
Here are some important points to cover with your children when you talk to them about how online predators operate:
- Remind your children that everything posted on the Internet or sent through their phone could end up in the wrong hands and may be used against them.
- Teach them to respect their bodies and stress that they should never share any compromising photos of themselves or other kids.
- Remind them not to share any personal information with people they do not know well in real life.
- If they get a text or message online from a “stranger” or new “friend” that makes them feel uncomfortable or scared, they should let you know immediately so that you can take action.
What Is Sextortion?
According to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), law enforcement received over 7,000 reports related to the online sextortion of minors in 2022, resulting in at least 3,000 victims (primarily boys) and more than a dozen deaths by suicide. Keep in mind that these numbers only represent the individuals who came forward to report incidents of sextortion. A significant number of victims are too scared or embarrassed to tell anyone what happened to them.
How Does Sextortion Happen?
Predators create fake accounts on social media platforms, chat rooms, and online games to begin a conversation with children and identify which of them are particularly lonely, hungry for attention, or otherwise susceptible to manipulation. Once a child engages, the predator will seek to gain their trust and eventually persuade them to send inappropriate photos or videos. The predator will threaten to share these images with a child’s friends and family if they don’t take further action, such as sending money or additional, more inappropriate materials. This is sextortion.
What Can I Do to Stop Sextortion?
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) has outlined several important action items for young people who have been victimized by sextortion.
- Remember, you are not to blame––the predator is.
- Before deciding whether to pay money or otherwise comply with the predator, ask for help. This can be a very complex problem that requires guidance from trusted adults or law enforcement agents.
- Be aware that cooperating with or paying these predators rarely stops the blackmail and harassment.
- REPORT the predator’s account via the associated platform’s safety feature.
- BLOCK the predator and DO NOT DELETE the profile or messages. These pieces of evidence can provide critical assistance to law enforcement in identifying the responsible parties and preventing them from causing further harm.
- If you feel like you don’t have an adult in your corner, reach out to NCMEC for support by calling 1-800-THE-LOST, or email email@example.com.
Parents or children can also take the following steps to address this issue:
- Contact NCMEC to help remove any explicit images a predator has acquired from the Internet.
- Visit cybertipline.org to report the incident to the FBI and request their help with that process.
- If children don’t feel they have adults in their corner, they can reach out to NCMEC for support at firstname.lastname@example.org or call NCMEC at 1-800-THE-LOST.
The bottom line is this: If young people are being exploited, they are victims of a crime and it must be reported.
How Do I Report Sextortion?
- Call or email your local FBI field office. You can view this list of all FBI field offices and the areas they cover to find the contact information you need.
- If you’re not sure which field office to contact, call 1-800-CALL-FBI.
- Visit tips.fbi.gov to submit an online report.
What Else Can I Do to Prevent Sextortion?
In order to prevent kids from being exploited by predators, parents need to know who their children are talking to. One important tool that enables parents to block predators’ access is the OffenderWatch Family Safety App. For just $4.99 a month, parents can upgrade to a Family Watch subscription that enables them to track their child’s phone, get notified if their child lingers near a registered sex offender’s residence for a prolonged period of time, or receive alerts if a registered sex offender or any individual on a customized “Do Not Contact” attempts to communicate with their child phone via text, call, or email.
To learn more about the OffenderWatch Family Safety App and Family Watch subscription features, visit offenderwatch.com/family-safety-app.