Children are at increased risk of harm online during pandemic: here’s what to do

By Erin Freeman | Lynnwood Times Staff

With a newly developing environment for children amid the coronavirus pandemic, with school closures and increased online presence, there is an increased risk for children to be a click away from inadvertent risk. 

On March 23, 2020, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) warned that the lack of face-to-face contact with others outside of their households and increased time online may expose children to harmful content and connections, explained the FBI.

Offenders may make casual contact with children online, said the FBI, gaining their trust and eventually introducing increasingly sexual conversation over time. The online relationship may be maintained and include sexual conversation and an exchange of illicit images, with the minor either compelled or coerced to do so through offender threats. The possibility of physically meeting the child in-person increases during this stage. 

It’s imperative that children undergoing online sexual exploitation come forward to someone they trust, such as parents, educators, caregivers, or law enforcement, so their victimization can stop, said the FBI. In doing so and identifying their offender, they are potentially helping hundreds of other victims, as the offenders may be sexually exploiting others. 

“The embarrassment of being enticed and/or coerced to engage in unwanted behavior is what often prevents children from coming forward,” said the FBI in a press release. 

The FBI is recommending that parents and guardians take the following measures to help educate and prevent children from becoming victims of child predators and sexual exploitation during the coronavirus pandemic: 

  • Discuss Internet safety with children of all ages when they engage in online activity.
  • Review and approve games and apps before they are downloaded.
  • Ensure privacy settings are set to the strictest level possible for online gaming systems and electronic devices.
  • Monitor your children’s use of the Internet; keep electronic devices in an open, common room of the house.
  • Check your children’s profiles and what they post online.
  • Explain to your children that images posted online will be permanently on the Internet.
  • Make sure children know that anyone who asks a child to engage in sexually explicit activity online should be reported to a parent, guardian, or other trusted adult and law enforcement.
  • Remember that victims should not be afraid to tell law enforcement if they are being sexually exploited. It is not a crime for a child to send sexually explicit images to someone if they are compelled or coerced to do so.

The Lynnwood Police Department is also requesting parents have a conversation about online safety, following the February 26, 2021 arrest of a 32-year-old man arranging to meet and then harboring a 12-year-old girl from Lynnwood in Kitsap County. 

There are numerous resources available to both parents and children, including through the Federal Trade Commission and the FBI:

Erin Freeman

I graduated from Washington State University in 2019 with a Bachelor of Arts in English with a specialization in rhetoric and professional writing. I also received a minor in political science. I joined the Lynnwood Times in February of 2020. To me, community newspapers affirm a sense of community by connecting people through the coverage of local stories and current events.

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