Millions of reports of online exploitation point to increasing danger for children

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(WTRF) – Just last week 7News told you about reports circulating on social media involving strangers trying to abduct children. Many of which, police had no record of. 

Those terrifying posts aren’t just local, they’re circulating nationally around the internet and advocates say they aren’t the biggest threat to children right now.

 When talking about these types of child abuse, the term “stereotypical kidnapping” is often used. That’s when a stranger abducts a child, much like those posts we see shared hundreds of times on Facebook. 

In reality, according to advocacy group Darkness to Light, more than 90% of children who are the victims of some type of abuse or exploitation know their perpetrator. 

What we think of as stereotypical child kidnappings, those haven’t increased for three decades. It remains pretty stable nationally at about 105-115 children per year. That’s obviously very serious, but what we also need to be aware of is that there are many other risks to children.

Robert Peters, Founder & Chair, SHIELD Task Force

The real risk is online sexual exploitation, and it’s happening at an alarming rate. In 2004, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reviewed a couple hundred thousand reports. But in 2018, thousands turned into 45 million files and images. 

If we go back to March of 2019, there were a little under a million reports made to the NCMEC hotline for online sexual exploitation of children. Fast forward to March of 2020, then the lock down began, that jumped up to two million. Fast forward to April, it quadrupled.

Robert Peters, Founder & Chair, SHIELD Task Force

While COVID-19 has played a part in the increase, Peters said the cases were already on the rise. So, the mission for advocacy organizations and parents now becomes stopping this from happening to more children.

If you wanna make a difference in combating abuse, the way to do that is not solely by sharing various stories on Facebook, and it’s certainly not sharing false ones.

Robert Peters, Founder & Chair, SHIELD Task Force

Instead, Peters advises talking to kids about online safety and body safety. 

A lot of people get squeamish about using anatomically correct terms with kids, but we know that that helps to prevent abuse, because when children are more educated it enables them to accurately describe what’s occurring. It enables earlier detection. It enables prevention.

Robert Peters, Founder & Chair, SHIELD Task Force

Also educate yourself to recognize the signs of abuse. 

This isn’t something that happens out there. This is something that happens in our schools, in our churches, in our communities and its perpetrated by those who children know and children love.

Robert Peters, Founder & Chair, SHIELD Task Force

Since some of those conversations can be difficult to have with kids, Peters recommended some resources.

The Zero Abuse Project details what child abduction actually looks like in today’s world and has materials for adults to learn more.

The SHIELD Task Force created videos to talk to kids of various ages about body safety and online safety.  

You can also learn more by checking out the Darkness to Light organization and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

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