As students shift to online learning amid the COVID-19 outbreak, the FBI fears that the increased internet use could put children at risk of online sexual exploitation.
Child exploitation on the internet comes in many forms, according to a news release from the FBI, but more commonly, individuals may coerce victims into providing sexually explicit images or videos of themselves, oftentimes threatening to post the images publicly if the victim speaks up about the abuse.
According to the FBI, children experiencing abuse may exhibit withdrawn behavior, angry outbursts, anxiety or depression. They also may not want to be left alone with a specific individual, may show “non-age appropriate sexual knowledge,” or have an increase in nightmares.
During this newly developing environment, the FBI says parents and guardians can take measures to help educate and prevent children from becoming victims of child predators:
— Discuss internet safety with children of all ages when they engage in online activity.
— Review and approve games and apps before they are downloaded.
— Make sure privacy settings are set to the strictest level possible for online gaming systems and electronic devices.
— Monitor your children’s use of the internet and 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 sexual activity online should be reported to a parent, guardian or other trusted adult.
— Remind children that they should not be afraid to tell police 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.
— Teach your children about body safety and boundaries.
— Encourage your children to have open communication with you.
— If your child discloses abuse, immediately contact local law enforcement for assistance, submit a tip at tips.fbi.gov, or file a report with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children at 800-843-5678 or online at www.cybertipline.org.