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Sexual abuse of children is abhorrent, and parents and guardians must take every step they can to protect children from predators. While the internet has made it easier to connect to information and stay in contact with our loved ones and friends, it is also made it possible for perpetrators sexual abuse to use the technology to their advantage. With the rise of social media and the ease of sharing photographs and videos, it is now easier than ever for sexual predators to target kids.
There are several steps parents and guardians can take to keep their children safe from internet predators, and it begins with open communication and education.
It can be difficult for parents and guardians to talk to their children about sexual exploitation and online predators. However, this is an essential step in keeping them safe. Before you allow your child to have any social media accounts, speak openly with them about the dangers of cyber-bullying and online predators. Children need to know the dangers of sending sexually explicit photos or videos and they should know to tell a parent any time someone asks for such material. Sexual curiosity is a natural part of getting older for children, and your child will likely not want to talk about all aspects of their private lives. However, if you have educated them on the dangers and let them know you are open to communication, they are much less likely to become targets of sexual predators online.
Minors should have strict security settings in place on their social media accounts. Parents should be able to monitor their child’s social media activity and should be “friends” with them on every account they have. However, this is not enough to keep kids safe, as there are countless social media accounts and messaging accounts that a child could have the parent does not know about. Make sure to have access to your child’s phone at all times. You should know your child’s password to their phone and to every social media account and check them regularly. Look for apps with names you do not know about, as well as “hidden folders” on the phone. Online sexual predators, particularly adult predators, could convince your child to download alternative messaging systems and tell them how to hide certain things from you.
Parents and guardians should be aware of changes in behavior in their children. While it is natural for growing children to desire more privacy, you should still be aware of any changes in mood or heightened levels of anxiety. If they are suddenly locking their bedroom door or spending a lot more time alone with their computer or phone, this could be a sign that a sexual predator is developing an online relationship with them.
There are various phases the sexual predators, both online and in real life, will use to “groom” a child into a sexual relationship. These stages begin with forming a friendship with the child by discussing similar interests and slowly forming a relationship. A sexual predator will begin to push their boundaries with the child to see how much information they can get from them. If a sexual predator feels like they can do so, they will begin to introduce sexual topics to gauge the child’s reaction. At this point, a sexual predator will make sure that the child knows that nobody can know about this relationship, and they will use coercion or guilt to ensure that what they talk about remains secret. Once a predator has the child’s trust, they will let their intentions be known and begin an electronic or even physical sexual relationship.
If your child has been sexually abused at school, daycare, a youth sports program, or at an organization such as the YMCA or Boys and Girls Club, please contact a sexual abuse attorney from our firm for help.