TUCSON, Ariz. — 72% of parents are concerned about their children's online safety, according to a University of Michigan poll.
“It goes without saying that these are some of the more difficult and heinous of crimes, right. Because they’re targeting the most vulnerable members of our population and in our society,” said Homeland Security Assistant Special Agent In Charge Ray Rede.
Rede says a global community exists today because of the internet. He says it’s important for parents to understand that children don’t just need a computer to communicate.
“Everyone has a phone these days, smart televisions will enable you to access the internet. Any platform where you can touch the internet is a platform where a predator can have access to a vulnerable child,” said Rede.
Rede says the pandemic extended the access to the internet and the number of those using social media platforms; video chatting has now become the norm.
“Also a lot of schools, a lot of daycare's, a lot of youth activities went to online. And those predators were quick to seize the opportunity to infiltrate those online platforms,” said Rede.
“The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children just reported a 100-percent increase in online child exploitation, you know we're at 21.7 million reports, that's out of control,” said Lisa Hansen, the education director and founder of Power Over Predators.
Hansen believes the pandemic is a reason for the extreme uptick in crimes.
“A predator is going to go where kids are, and so, if kids are now having to do online education - there's more of them are online than there ever have been before. Also if they're in if they're at home, and they have no access to their friends and by default, they're going to go where their friends are which is online,” said Hansen.
Hansen says parents are the best prevention tool; it’s not an app, it’s not coding, it’s the parent. But she does recognize, with kids going back to school, getting a grip on what they do outside of the home can be challenging.
“Schools are giving kids email addresses, Chromebooks where they have internet access at school, they search on the web at school. So, we just really want to encourage parents to be blunt, just ask that blunt question. Tell me exactly what you are doing to protect our kids at school online,” said Hansen.
The Internet Crimes Against Children Taskforce encourages the public to report any suspected child predators through its tip-line at 1 (866) 347–2423.