Authorities advise protecting your children from online predators
As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, law enforcement and children’s advocacy groups are trying to ensure children are not victims of online sexual predators.
Last year, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s Child Exploitation and Computer Crime unit received approximately 11,600 cyber tips from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. This year, the unit is on track to receive between 15,000 and 16,000 e-tips.
The special agent in charge of CEACCU, Debbie Garner, said NCMEC’s cyber councils are increasing every year. The majority of advice received last year concerned child pornography or child pornography being traded between adults or adults turning to children for material.
“Much of the child pornography that we see has been traded multiple times in the past and they continue to do so,” Garner said. “Some of it is through email, some of it is through apps you have in your phone, messaging apps, or messaging features in apps. Some of these are done through specialized software, others are found in the dark web. ”
Communication is the most important prevention
Child Enrichment Executive Director Kari Viola-Brooke said the most important thing parents can do to protect their children from online sexual predators is to just talk to them.
“With preventing child abuse at all levels, the key is communication. We need to start to feel comfortable having these conversations with our children, so that they know what to do, if they ever find themselves in this situation, ”she said.
Child Enrichment has been serving abused and neglected children since 1978.
Viola-Brooke encouraged parents to monitor their children’s internet use and notice any changes in behavior or anything unusual with their child. By establishing open communication, talking about these topics will become easier, she said.
“As soon as children use the Internet on their own or have access to it if they have their own phone or their own tablet or computer, that’s when we need to have these prevention conversations with our children,” said Viola. -Brooke.
Importance of understanding social media and the dangers online
Garner said parents need to educate their children about the dangers online and parents need to be made aware of what their children are doing online. As a parent, Garner said she makes sure she knows everything about Instagram, even setting up an account and following her kids, when they want to access the social media app.
She said parents need to be vigilant because every day a new app appears that could be used to target children. All social media apps are required by federal law to report cases of exploitation of children found on their platforms, but are not required to search for them. Big companies like Facebook and Google are doing it, with Facebook being the largest content reporter with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Viola-Brooke said she saw cases of children being solicited online on TikTok, Twitter and YouTube.
Garner said there are many ways people sell child pornography. She said adults were grooming and manipulating children online in order to obtain nude photos of them or try to meet them for sex.
“These predators know how to groom children. They know how to give the compliments and they know where to find the kids who may be a little more vulnerable. They know what they’re doing in this arena, ”she said. “We have seen a sharp increase in self-generated indecent images, whether at the request of an adult or another peer.”
With more children online, especially during the pandemic, it has been easier for predators to find vulnerable children.
“We know that one in five children will be contacted via the Internet, so one in five children will be approached on the Internet for sex,” said Viola-Brooke. “Internet use increased by a ton during the pandemic. The kids went to school online, they weren’t really socializing outside of their homes, so there was more internet access, more access to meet people like that.
Recent local cases
On August 10, Thomas Lee Nelson, 79, was charged with non-aggravated pedophilia and the Prevention of Computer or Electronic Pornography and Child Exploitation Act after receiving a video of an 11-year-old girl which showed her masturbating.
James Clifford Hatmaker Jr., 59, was arrested on August 11 on five counts of sexual exploitation of a third-degree minor after investigators found him in possession of child pornography.
In June, Oludare Oluwabusi, 44, was sentenced to 78 months in federal prison after investigators found hundreds of child pornography photos and videos stored on multiple devices at his Columbia County residence.
Former Fort Gordon soldier Bryan Stills, 26, was sentenced to five years in prison on Wednesday after investigators found more than 1,000 images and videos of child pornography on his electronics.
Former Aiken County teacher Jonathan Grantham, 45, has pleaded guilty to taking a child across state lines to have sex with her.
Hatmaker, Oluwabusi and Stills were all arrested on the basis of advice from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Viola-Brooke said that since October, her office has handled 53 child exploitation cases in our area, including 52 in Richmond County. Most of the children were between the ages of 14 and 16, and the majority were girls.
The pandemic has also resulted in children having less access to mandated journalists like teachers and counselors who may not have been as aware of what was going on in their students’ lives.
Garner said they try to work on both reactive and proactive cases as they try to protect children and stop predators. She said it becomes more difficult to do proactive work in preventing crimes against children because of the amount of reactive work they have to do once the crime occurs.
“It’s hard for us to find time for proactive work,” Garner said. “The proactive work we do relates to proactive online undercover investigations, where trained law enforcement officers pose as children.”
What parents should share with kids about online safety
- Set your profiles to private
- Don’t accept friend requests or follow requests from strangers
- Never share personal information or photos with strangers
- Don’t talk to strangers online
- Never meet strangers on social media in real life
How to monitor children’s online use
- Talk to your kids about online dangers
- Track your children’s social media accounts
- Understand and discover the apps your kids are using
- Set controls to prevent your child from accepting requests without your permission