‘They groom these kids’: Parents need to be aware of how sex traffickers use the internet
Parents, be aware of what your kids are looking at on their phones — because they might be secretly stalked by sex traffickers.
“Every few seconds a new child gets on the internet for the first time,” Matt Osborne, president and COO of Operation Underground Railroad, cited a stat from Safe Online. “That’s where these predators are going then to look because the kids are experimenting with new technology, young (and) impressionable.”
Osborne told FOX News Digital the organization has gone into the “darkest corners of the world” to save over 7,000 victims of human trafficking as the demand for trafficked children continues to skyrocket.
The organization president encourages parents to have “open communication” with their children about the dangers of sharing personal information online because who one might think is a teen profile, could really be a predator in disguise.
“I always tell my daughters that unless you physically know the person, have met them, have interacted with them, if… you’re accepting a friend request, you don’t know if that person is a 15-year-old girl or a 65-year-old man,” Osborne said.
“Be careful about posting any information, pictures, videos that can be used as blackmail later on, because that’s what these traffickers try to do,” he continued. “They groom these kids into trying to share inappropriate information, pictures of themselves. Then, once they have that, they say, ‘I will blast this all over the Internet. I will share this with your parents, with your friends at school, unless you do what I want’ and oftentimes that’s how these children are groomed into trafficking rings and into online exploitation.”
Callahan Walsh, an executive director of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, says the organization’s cyber tipline received 32 million reports last year alone.
“We are seeing the amount of cases of children being exploited online just skyrocket,” Walsh said. “It’s unfortunate. The Internet has created life for the better in so many ways, but it has created new ways to harm children and those who want to harm children know that, and so they go to the places that children are online. This is oftentimes social media platforms, gaming platforms, and they try to lure children to either send them explicit images, maybe even lure them to meet them in real life, to groom them.”
Walsh recommended the NCMEC’s NetSmartz Program, which teaches children how to “make safe and smart decisions online, how to identify risky situations and learn how to avoid them” through interactive games and videos.
“During COVID…. we saw the numbers of these children who were being exploited skyrocket,” Walsh told Fox News Digital. “…We saw chatter even on the dark web amongst exploiters sharing best practices and saying this is a great time to exploit kids. … a parent (is given) a false sense of security when they see their kids sitting right there on the couch, they’re at home, they’re safe, they’re under my roof, but if they don’t know who that child is talking to and what kind of online behavior they’re involved in, the child could be talking to somebody that they shouldn’t be talking to.”
The organization’s “Take it Down Tool” is available to the public and helps victims of “sextortion” get their pictures offline. Victims can select any photos on their phones they believe have been shared when they were minors. A hash value is created for the image and shared with internet service providers to take down the picture.
Walsh and Osborne’s tips to parents include understanding the technology their children are using, having ongoing conversations about internet safety, setting up parental controls and avoiding posting personal information about kids online. Both organizations never give up on rescuing the captive.
“Hope is why we’re here,” Callahan Walsh told Fox News. “Never give up hope. We’ve seen way too many long-term recoveries of missing children to ever give up hope. We never stopped searching for any of our missing children and it’s because we know the parents will never give up either… Whether it’s Jaycee Dugard, Elizabeth Smart, the Cleveland girls, we’ve seen too many of these long-term recoveries, these individuals, these children who have been missing for years come back safely. Hope is why we’re here. We keep hope alive.”