We’ve all been spending more time in front of screens in the past year. Our kids have too. Many times teens and pre-teens are on their devices in their bedrooms, silently connecting with friends and strangers online.
National Centers for Missing and Exploited Children Callahan Walsh said sex predators have been spending more time online too, looking for children.
“We’ve seen chatter on the dark web amongst other child exploiters, talking about best practices and tips, and how COVID, the silver lining is that this is a great time to try and exploit children online,” he said. Adding “It’s sickening.”
Walsh says while parents may not know or understand some of the apps and websites kids are using, sex predators do. They study it and use the apps and psychology to bait children of all ages when they’re parents aren’t looking. The way Walsh describes it should terrify moms and dads. “They use our social media platforms as private hunting preserves for our children,” Walsh said.
The hunting preserves, as Walsh put it, oftentimes includes when children are on their phones and computers in the privacy of their bedroom. While Walsh didn’t want to name any specific apps, parents should search their child’s internet history for “Omeagle”, a popular online video and sharing platform. The apps “Whisper” and “Kik” allow for one-on-one anonymous chats. A common tactic, Walsh said, is be-friending kids, maybe posing as someone their own age, asking to trade illicit photos, then threatening to show their parents unless they send more, or meet them IRL. In real life.
“That is the worst-case scenario, where a child is meeting somebody online, starting a relationship and then agreeing to meet them in the real world,” Walsh explained. “We had two cases over the weekend, of two young teenage girls who were both groomed online. Both of them met two older men online and were convinced that this was going to be the right guy for them.”
Deputies in Volusia County, Florida rescued a 13 year old girl at a motel with a 22 year old man she met online. A North Carolina 14-year-old girl was rescued in Arkansas after a man abducted her and drove over 800 miles from her home. Savannah Childress was rescued safely. The man police said abducted her, 38 year old William Robert Ice got into a shootout with deputies and eventually took his on life according to Arkansas Police. “Many times in situations like this, because the child is leaving their home on their own volition, they’re oftentimes reported as runaways,” Walsh said. “Even though they’re going right into the arms of a child predator. Luckily in both of these instances, law enforcement took these cases very seriously and that’s why these two girls were rescued so quickly.”
And it can happen to any teenager in any family situation if they’re allowed to be alone with their phone or computer. We’ll talk about how a huge spike in reports of sex predators contacting children and what warning signs parents should watch for, next time.