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How parents can help prevent children from falling victim to online sex crimes

Mar 18, 2024, 3:50 PM | Updated: Mar 19, 2024, 2:47 pm

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Parents need to be vigilant to protect their kids from cyber crime. (Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Chances are, if your teen has a cell phone or tablet, they either know someone or they have been the victim of an online sex crime because kids as young as seven are online more than ever.

My interest in this story began almost the same time last year when my daughter came home and recalled a moment at school that took my breath away. Her 11-year-old friend asked to take feet pics on her cell phone to post online for her friend to sell. At first, I didn’t believe what I was hearing.

So, like any other parent, I Googled ‘Do teens sell feet pics?’ and, low and behold, they do. The dangerous trend became popular during the lockdown when we were home-schooling and working remotely, according to Detective Brandon James of the Seattle Police Department (SPD).

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Fast foward almost a year, and new numbers are out. According to Seattle Police Lieutenant Ben Morrison, Commander for the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) unit, “They, (kids) all have phones. We’re all online. We’re all gaming, right? We have chat features in our games, as well. So all of the kids and teenagers are all exposed to this threat.”

Since the pandemic, it has become easier for kids to connect with someone they think might be another teen online.

“Predators online, who are very good at their craft, very good at reaching out to kids, finding kids manipulating kids using fear, guilt, shame, to get what they want.  Which is partial or nude photos of our children… of our teenagers, so they can continue to manipulate them for that material. This is child sexual abuse online.” Morrison said, “And this is just simple, where someone reaches out. They text and sound just like that teenager appears, right? If it’s a 13-year-old online, it sounds like all their friends are online.”

That’s the hook, line, and sinker in most cases.

“So it’s not unusual at all for people to reach out to another teenager who may be a stranger to say I’m a 13-year-old at another school or I play this sport, or I see from your online digital presence that you like these activities. And so you know, I do as well,” Morrison said. “And then they just start that conversation. Some of the red flags though, are that these conversations will turn in very quickly (as in hours) to threatening behavior. They will solicit those pictures and videos.”

Online predators start out with innocent requests, Morrison said.

“Show me a photo of your feet. Show me a photo of you and your school t-shirt, your nightgown,” he continued. “You know, maybe they share a photo of a kid that they pulled from online; it’s not them clearly. And then that also entices or lures the victim to share an image. And then it becomes threatening language.”

Morrison said this is when extortion begins.

“I am going to now share this image and embarrass you. If you don’t do X, Y and Z share more images. I will threaten you,” he explained.

The threats range from the kids to the parents. It can be in the form of violence in addition to shame and guilt.

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“I’ll give you another frightening statistic. Right now, the ICAC)Task Force receives approximately 1600 cyber tips a month,” Morrison said. “So we received those from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that don’t all resolve to the Seattle area.”

He said those numbers don’t include local crime reports. “Parents and kids must understand the nature of this problem,” Morrison explained. It’s really an epidemic.”

If a parent finds their child in a compromising situation, they should immediately report it to the FBI. The number is 1-800-CALL-FBI.

“Do not send any money, do not send any more images, do not engage in any more conversations,” Morrison said. “You can block but do not delete any of the conversations, and do not delete any images they may have sent you. Preserve that information as best as possible for law enforcement.”

Morriso said it is critical parents become more tech savvy. He advised parents to add all the parental and privacy settings that they can with all the apps and all the devices.

He also said to disconnect your Wi-Fi network every day.

“Shut off the Wi-Fi if you have to, to a certain time of night,” Morrison said. “If your kids are old enough to be alone with these devices, that’s on you as a parent to decide, but I would err on the side of caution and not allow children to be in their bedrooms at night with these devices and access to the internet.”

You can read more of Micki Gamez’s stories here. Follow Micki on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email her here. 

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How parents can help prevent children from falling victim to online sex crimes