Updated: March 5, 2021
The internet has unfortunately made it very easy for sexual predators to gain access to the lives of children. Be it on social media platforms or via the chat tools in multiplayer video games – predators are present in almost every corner of the internet. As children make more and more virtual connections, crimes of “sextortion” and online abuse increase regularly. Stories of children being coerced into sending explicit pictures of themselves or facing other forms of online sexual solicitations and exploitations are becoming extremely common. Rightfully, there’s a lot of concern about online sexual predators who conspire to commit these types of crimes.
Increase in the Number of Cases
It is impossible for modern parents to prevent their children from getting access to technology. This increased exposure has also multiplied the number of online child sexual exploitation cases.
One only needs to do a quick Google search to find the alarming statistics related to the increase in online predators and child exploitation. Homeland Security Investigation agents made over 3,700 criminal arrests related to child exploitation in 2019, marking an 18% increase from the previous year. Those are only the ones who get caught. There is terrifying evidence that suggests the problem is extremely prevalent.
“Tech companies reported over 45 million online photos and videos of children being sexually abused — more than double what they found the previous year.
1. In 1998, there were over 3,000 reports of child sexual abuse imagery.
2. Just over a decade later, yearly reports soared past 100,000.
3. In 2014, that number surpassed 1 million for the first time.
4. In 2018, there were 18.4 million, more than one-third of the total ever reported.
5. Despite landmark legislation past in 2008 to reign in the scourge (which has gone largely underfunded) the explosion in detected content kept growing — exponentially.”
In many of these cases, online solicitation leads to offline exploitation or abuse. According to experts, most instances of online child exploitation are not reported.
Characteristics of Sexual Predators
It is difficult to pigeonhole offenders, but various studies prove that people who commit sexual offenses against children online share certain characteristics.
A 2010 meta-analysis examined these characteristics and found that most online offenders tended were:
• Males who were younger than the average offline predator
• Had a basic educational background (similar to the average educational standards of the population)
• Involved in romantic relationships (much more compared to offline predators)
• Did not have any emotional identification with children
A 2018 report by ECPAT International identified many alarming trends about the nature of online child exploitation –
• The nature of the abuse is more severe for younger victims
• 84% of the child images possessed by Interpol featured explicit sexual activity
• In Interpol’s database, over 60% of anonymous victims of online child abuse were preadolescent
• 65% of these anonymous victims were girls
• 92% of identified perpetrators were male
Mechanisms of Online Solicitation
Based on these analyses and news stories, experts have been able to explore common patterns of ‘Cyber-sexploitation.’ The main stages of the grooming process include –
i. Forming a friendship with a child on an online platform
ii. Asking the child to exchange pictures to verify that the victim meets their preference criteria
iii. Forming a relationship, getting more information about the child’s school and home life
iv. Assuming the role of a ‘best-friend’ by regularly texting them
v. A risk-assessment stage where the offender gradually introduces sexual topics into the conversation
vi. Applying pressure to share private feelings/stories to establish a sense of mutuality
vii. Making mild sexual suggestions and overt requests
viii. Completely sexualizing the nature of the conversations
ix. Minimizing the risk of disclosure
x. Attempting to extort images/videos
However, not all interactions follow this commonly identified pattern. For example, in 2010, a shocking story of online abuse was reported in Louisiana, U.S. 12-year-old Justin Bloxom, fell victim to an online abuser pretending to be a young girl called “Amber.” “Amber” was a 34-year-old man named Brian Horn who manipulated Justin into arranging a meetup within 4-hours.
At 3:00 am, Justin was picked up in a taxi from his friend’s house. He was later found suffocated to death alongside a local freeway. All the events leading up to this horrific incident took place in just 4-hours.
Online predators strike up conversations with as many children as they can. Most abusers gradually build trust with the ones who reply. Often, these predators will pose as children, sharing false and relatable stories of self-loathing with their victims. Once they achieve their goal of duping the children into sharing sexually explicit pictures/videos of themselves, they either stop communication or blackmail them for more (and increasingly graphic) content or even worse – private meetings.
Digital Platforms: Are They Failing to Protect Children?
According to court records, police reports, and several academic studies, it is evident that cases of abuse are emerging with record frequency around the world. In some cases, perpetrators have been found grooming thousands of victims online. Gaming and social platforms are the most common hunting grounds for these predators.
According to a New York Times report in 2019, the response to this problem by the tech industry has been inadequate. Although these companies are aware of the increase in child sexual abuse on the internet, the spaces where adults and youngsters can interact that they have created feature safeguards that rarely work.
Only a handful of companies have detection systems installed as there is no legal incentive to tackle this problem. To put it simply, these companies cannot be held legally responsible for the content that is shared or posted on their websites.
In 2013, only 50 reports of “sextortion” offenses were reported to the federally assigned clearinghouse in Washington. The organization pursues online child sexual abuse cases. In 2018, they received over 1,500 such complaints. According to the authorities in Washington, the vast majority of these cases are not reported.
Law Enforcement Agencies are Struggling: Why?
The world is facing an unprecedented crisis. The sheer number of such cases vastly exceeds the amount of resources that law enforcement agencies possess. Faced with so many cases, law enforcement personnel are forced to prioritize their resources and triage the cases.
According to a study by UNICEF, the major risks that children face on the internet include –
• Online sexual abuse/exploitation
• Cyber extremism (ideological indoctrination/recruitment)
• Online commercial fraud
• Online enticement to illicit behaviors
All online offenses involving children are extremely worrying and require immediate attention. The only way these ‘online devils’ who pose an immediate risk to youngsters can be stopped is by parent intervention. Parents need to know about the types of people their children may encounter on the internet.
How To Protect Children From Online Sexual Predators?
The following pre-emptive steps have been suggested by experts –
• Set clear rules regarding the people your child is allowed to interact with online.
• Spend time exploring the games, apps, and social media platforms your child uses. Learn about the safety features these platforms provide.
• Identify potential risks and inform your children in non-confrontational conversations.
• Ask your child how they feel about online safety; listen closely to their opinions.
• Make sure your child is aware of the consequences of sending suggestive or inappropriate pictures, even to people they know.
• Talking about online rights and responsibilities; keep the conversations open so that they feel comfortable sharing matters of concern with you.
• Tell them that the obligation to treat kindly extends to digital platforms as well
• Inform them about their right to be treated well by others online; teach them about blocking strangers.
• Set reasonable rules about internet use.
• Brainstorm the different types of risky situations they might face online.
How to Notice and Deal with Warning Signs of Abuse?
Never make your child feel that only they are responsible for their safety on the internet. If they make a mistake, they might develop self-blame/guilt and withhold information from their parents. The most significant warning sign is an angry reaction when parents place a ban on contacting strangers. Groomers bank on children feeling too embarrassed to disclose their communication, so it’s important not to be judgmental and reassure them that their online abuse is not their fault. It can be difficult to introduce children to topics regarding sex, so the parent must take the first step whenever they feel appropriate.
Taking Charge as your Child’s Internet Protector
As children get more and more enamored by technology, parents must extend their role as a full-time guardian in the digital space by using child protection apps such as MMGuardian. Recommended by experts and parents alike, the app has been exclusively designed to maximize your child’s safety by using artificial intelligence, especially when it comes to online predators. By combining deep learning technology and the consultations of child predator experts with decades of experience, there is no better application to give parents peace of mind and help to protect their children.
After installing MMGuardian on their child’s phone, parents will be able to view their child’s messages on major social media and messaging apps, get comprehensive reports about their internet activity, and receive priority alerts whenever there’s a message that is indicative of cyberbullying, sexual exploitation, violence, suicide, or other forms of risks, and alerts for inappropriate pictures stored on the phone – all of this from the parent’s own phone via the MMGuardian parent app. Parents will also have access to an extensive set of other controls such as contact blocking, phone locking, app blocking, and much more.
Instead of checking your child’s phone manually and making them feel untrustworthy, using a discreet and technological means such as the MMGuardian app is much more effective.
Check out this honest review evaluating MMGuardian’s features and effectiveness as a parental control app.
To get started with MMGuardian and receive a 14-day free trial, click here.
Consider also joining our Facebook group “Tech-Savvy Parenting” to discuss raising kids in the 21st century with other parents.
In most online child exploitation cases, the child’s reluctance to communicate, and the parent’s inability to trace such messages are the most damaging factors. Online groomers rely on silence and ignorance. Make sure you do everything in your power to stay a step ahead of them!