During the coronavirus pandemic, we have had our feelings assaulted by its negative impact, which has affected everything from our health and the economy to education and leisure.
It is further unfortunate that the pandemic's harmful effects have had a direct and dramatic impact on New Jersey’s children. We are made particularly aware of this increase in online grooming in January, which is National Human Trafficking Awareness Month.
"As children in New Jersey stayed home during the pandemic and spent more time on devices, online exploitation by predators increased by over 200%," according to the NJ Coalition Against Human Trafficking. "During Covid-19 for the period of March 1, thru May 23, 2020, the NJ Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force received 2,380 reports from the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children, up from 760 reports in 2019 during the same time period. Although not every report was of a predator victimizing a child, the overall online exploitation numbers more than doubled, illustrating the underlying risks to children and teens of spending more time online."
The NJCAHT has done a commendable job raising attention to this issue and has worked with law enforcement in keeping the issue at the forefront during this pandemic. Its new website, www.safernj.org, has created a special webpage that assists families in understanding the subtle techniques predators use to groom children for exploitation or future trafficking. Their Locker Slam 2.0 program is a virtual campaign designed for teens to empower them and make them aware of predators online.
While this upsurge warrants our attention, there are things you can do to prevent a child from being the victim of an online predator, and human trafficking. The NJCAHT offers these seven tips:
Keeping children safe from online predators - SEVEN STRATEGIES
- Remind children to only interact online and on gaming apps with people they know and trust in the real world.
- Let children tell you about what they love about their games and online lives and allow them to enjoy all that is good about apps, games and online, which makes a conversation about the concerns of online grooming easier to have.
- Warn children to not accept gaming dollars (E.G. V-bucks for the game "Fortnite") from people they don't know and trust. Predators will later come back and say, "Now you owe me."
- Review which location markers are visible on children's devices and remove any except the essential ones. Consider products to help with this, which can also monitor some - but not all - of your children's activity.
- Reduce shame in conversations with children. If they have shared CSAM (Child Sexual Abuse Material) of themselves, they were manipulated in order to do so. Shame is a method traffickers use to further manipulate, so be supportive instead of blaming the child.
- Make sure you know and your child knows what to do if they find themselves in an exploitation situation, and that there are organizations like NCMEC who can help.
- Spend "device-free" time with your family to boost everyone's serotonin levels, and help children feel good without needing to get "likes" on social media.
REPORT ONLINE CHILD EXPLOITATION ON THE CYBER TIPLINE OR CALL 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678) - RUN BY NCMEC (NATIONAL CENTER FOR MISSING AND EXPLOITED CHILDREN)
Source: NJ Coalition Against Human Trafficking
I frequently mention that our most vulnerable citizens — children and the elderly — deserve extra attention and special care. Ensuring that we stop and punish predators who try to exploit our children falls under this category.
That's my take, what's yours?