Not surprisingly, there has been an unprecedented rise in reports of adults pressuring minors to produce sexually explicit photos or videos of themselves during the COVD-19 pandemic.

More children and adults have been at home during the past few months than at any other time in modern history. Much of that time has been spent online, which unfortunately resulted in more efforts by sexual predators to commit crimes against juveniles. 

The N.C. State Bureau of Investigation’s Computer Crimes Unit and the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force has seen this in the form of “cybertips” reported through the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) in Alexandria, Va. Cybertips often involve adults pressuring minors to produce sexually explicit photos or videos online. 

After receiving a record 4,892 cybertips in all of 2019, the SBI received 6,203 such tips in the first nine months of this year. “Remember, each one of those tips is an indicator of North Carolina children in danger,” said Alan Flora, the SBI agent in charge of the agency’s Computer Crimes Unit and N.C. Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. (Flora also happens to live in Wilkes County.)

If adult predators obtain these images, they may then use them for blackmail to compel children into meeting for sex. Federal law requires that internet service providers and social media applications report communications indicating that a minor may be in danger of sexual exploitation. 

Those reports are made to NCMEC, where analysts then review them to determine locations of the persons involved. This generates investigative cybertips, which are sent to law enforcement agencies so they can be investigated. 

Suspected online enticement of children for sexual acts, extra-familial child sexual molestation, child pornography, child sex tourism, child sex trafficking, unsolicited obscene materials sent to a child, misleading domain names and misleading words or digital images on the internet can be reported at https://report.cybertip.org.

There is support and other help available if a sexually exploitative image of you or someone you care about is posted online. Steps can be taken to limit the spread of such images or get them removed, including through the company where they were posted. For more information about this, go to https://www.missingkids.org/gethelpnow/isyourexplicitcontentoutthere.

Flora said investigators typically learn about sexual exploitation after it is attempted or occurs, so the best line of defense against internet predators is vigilant parents. 

He urges parents to frequently communicate with their children about who they interact with online and talk to them about what is and what isn’t acceptable online behavior. Parents should warn them about dangers of sharing inappropriate photos and videos and teach them to spot red flags. Keep devices in open, common areas of the home and consider time limits for their use.

Occasionally check phones and other devices of kids to see what apps they have and how they’re using them. Pay particular attention to apps and sites that feature end-to-end encryption, direct messaging, video chats, file uploads, and user anonymity, which are frequently relied upon by online child predators.

Adjust privacy settings and use parental controls for online games, apps, social medial sites, and electronic devices. Tell children to avoid sharing personal information, photos, and videos online in public forums or with people they do not know in real life. Explain to children that images posted online don’t just go away.

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