Resources for Parents
Does “Stranger Danger” only apply to people we see in person? What about strangers on the internet?
Human trafficking happens here at home, by Americans to Americans. Understanding this crime and how predators find their victims is the key to understanding how we, as a country and as a community, can do better to fight it.
How do predators groom children online?
What are the common risk factors of child sex trafficking?
Understanding common risk factors helps identify opportunities to proactively intervene in an effort to prevent child sex trafficking. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children organized these factors into three categories. The list below is not exhaustive and many factors may be interconnected.
- Lack of resources
- Involvement in child welfare or juvenile justice systems
- Gang activity
- Inter-generational sexual abuse
- Lack of acceptance of gender identity or sexual orientation
- Housing instability
- Immigration status
- Adverse childhood experiences:
- Domestic violence
- Household substance abuse
- Physical/emotional neglect or abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Families with untreated mental health issues
- History of trauma
- Lack of supportive family or adult figures
- Low self-esteem
- Developmental or physical disability
- Substance abuse
What are the physical and emotional indicators that a child is being trafficked?
These indicators provided by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children should not be considered an assessment tool. Rather, if observed they can be an opportunity to dive deeper and ask questions. Due to shame, guilt, or fear survivors of child sex trafficking often are unable to self-identify as victims.
- Signs of sexual or physical abuse
- Symptoms of neglect such as malnourishment
- Unaddressed or chronic medical/dental issues or STIs
- Close association with an overly controlling adult
- Recovered at hotels, street tracks, strip clubs, or other locations where commercial sex is known to occur
- Has a secret cell phone or apps providing multiple cellphone numbers
- In possession of material items inconsistent with the child’s access to money or socioeconomic status
- Living out of suitcases, motels, in a car or other evidence of housing insecurity
- In possession of bulk sexual paraphernalia such as condoms or lubricant
- Unexplained access to large amounts of cash, pre-paid cards, or hotel keys
- Tattoos or other branding, such as those indicating money or matching other known trafficking victims, or that the child is reluctant to explain
- References traveling to other cities or states while missing, or while their whereabouts were unknown
- Drug abuse or frequent use of “party drugs” such as GHB, Rohypnol, Ketamine, MDMA (Ecstasy), or Methamphetamines
- Chronically runs away from home (especially 3+ missing incidents)
- Unexplained absences from school
- Constantly sleeps during class
- Stops engaging in activities they previously enjoyed
- Abruptly disconnects from family and friends
- Significant changes in behavior, including their online activity
- Appears overly frightened, annoyed, resistant, or belligerent to authority figures
- Avoids answering questions or lets others speak for them
- Lies about age and identity or has a secret online profile
- Uses language or emojis often associated with commercial sex such as “trick”, “the life”, or “the game”
- References online escort ads or dating websites/apps
What are the signs that your child may be groomed by a predator?
How can you keep your children safe on the internet?
Technology is a double-edged sword. A majority of children and teens now enjoy increased screen time and are active on social media, where they’re constantly posting updates about their regular activities and even whereabouts.
As a result, it places them at inadvertent risk as traffickers, who are always on the prowl, have leveraged the wonders of modern communication and technology to scout and scale their reach to their victims.
If you’re a parent wondering “How can I protect my child on the internet?” know that you can implement good child internet safety practices to ensure your child is safe online.
First and foremost, it’s important to monitor your child’s activities online. In order to do so, it’s essential to have access to the passwords to their devices as well as emails, texts, and social media accounts. After all, your child’s safety is a number one priority. Alternatively, you may consider adopting tools for content filtering and social media monitoring.
While there’s more than one way to ensure child internet safety, remember there’s no alternative to open and honest communication. It’s imperative to have straightforward conversations with them to help them understand the ever increasing threats posed by traffickers and predators and the importance of safe online practices.
We've listed 12 ways and suggestions you can use to engage, educate, and protect your children online in our blog.
Boundaries for the use of social media and the Internet need to be established when a child is given access to the Internet.
Develop an approved plan covering:
- what sites they can visit
- who they can communicate with
- what social media applications are approved in your home
- establish times frames that they are allowed to have access to the internet or cellular device
- Most importantly, have a safety plan that includes what and when they should report to you if something happens that makes them uncomfortable.
- Monitoring use of Internet and establishing common rooms in the home where children can online game or research the internet for school projects.
There are a number of great third-party hardware tools available to parents which allows them to monitor what apps can be used, how long an application can be used, and filter information that is prohibited from reaching your child. Third-party hardware tools and resources for parental monitoring software can be located online by doing an internet search where you can find the right product to fit you and your families needs.
Talk with your child about the types of information they are portraying about themselves online using the principles name, image and reputation.
- Name: Their name is their true identity and will always be attached to what they share and do online. Educate that what you post, even if you delete it, can remain online as sites often keep records of deleted posts, pages, and messages boards. And most importantly, once it is shared, you have no control over who captures your posts, pictures, or conversations.
- Image: Images that you post online allow people viewing them to make a judgement about who you are, what you like, and if it is someone they want to engage with. Traffickers or sexual predators will often view the images posted to a social media account in order to access any perceived vulnerabilities they can exploit. Are the images your children posting to their social media profiles portraying them appropriately?
- Reputation: Are the images they post and the content they are posting about giving them the type of reputation you want people to associate with them?
We lock our doors at night to keep strangers out of our homes, but kids should be educated that the person(s) they meet online IS being invited into their home and bedrooms at night.
- Establish times that cellular devices or computers should be turned off and placed in a location designated by a parent at a certain time each day and/or night.
- When a child’s device beeps at night with an incoming message; children feel compelled to answer. With a myriad of electronic devices in our children’s bedroom, they are getting fewer hours of sleep at night due to surfing the internet, or engaging person(s) they are communicating with. Establish boundaries in order for your children to disengage from online in order to enable them to sleep and recharge for the next day.
Discuss with your kids that unless they know a person’s name, where they live, what school they go to and their phone number, they are talking to a stranger online, and we must assume that strangers are liars.
It is well known that child predators create the identities of children online to exploit our children. They could be lurking in chat rooms, messaging them on Facebook, following your child’s Instagram account or Snapchat stories waiting for a vulnerable opportunity to begin a conversation with your child under an assumed identity.
Conversations we have had with our children about stranger-danger apply to the Internet and should be a continued conversation with your children.
The average age a child is given a cellphone is 10.3 years old. Continually educate your kids about online safety and being a good steward on social media. Conversations should be geared towards a child’s, tween’s, or teen’s learning abilities, done openly in a way that creates an environment which empowers your child to report and share with you when someone has attempted to exploit them or a friend, cyberbullied, or is making them feel unsafe.
Establish “safe harbors” with your child, allowing them opportunities to discuss problems they are having online or witnessing with their peers without fear of punishment or judgement. We recognize children will make mistakes and at times will disobey boundaries parents have set, but by creating a “safe harbor” with your children, they are more inclined to report problems or concerns to you.
If you believe your child is in danger, immediately report it to your local law enforcement or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The Cybertip hotline can be contacted at 1-800-THE-LOST or www.missingkids.com.
Leave the computer or cellular phone untouched in order for law enforcement to capture the content or conversations.
If applicable or needed, take screen shots of the activity.
Parents are in the role of guides for their children as they navigate the Internet, and children look to their parents to keep them safe. Installing safeguards on your child’s devices or installing safeguards on your internet modem are ways we can guide our kids to use the Internet in appropriate ways and minimize potential threats to them online.
There are so many parental controlled applications available that doing an online search is easy to find the right fit for you and your family. Most Internet Service Providers provide a way to establish parental controls and filters on your modems. Call them and ask.
Educate yourself by browsing the Internet for online resources to protect your child from online predators. Look for opportunities and schedule time with your child for them to educate you about what sites they are visiting, what apps are most popular in their peer groups, and what problems they are seeing or facing.
Most parents are unfamiliar with the apps their kids are using online or on their smartphones. Every day, new apps are created with ways to communicate and share information between our children. Sitting down with your children and reviewing the safeguards these apps already have in place and ensuring the correct settings are used are great ways to start. Cellular phones also have settings you can use to block or moderate illicit content you do not want your child exposed to.
It is your responsibility to educate yourself about current websites, software and apps your child is using. The power of information on the Internet can easily help you understand how an app is used and appropriate ways to use it.
If you are unsure about what your kid is using, create an environment where they can tell you what apps are currently popular among their peer groups. Apps for children, tweens and teens are continually changing. At one time, MySpace was a popular app. Kids then moved to Facebook, and recently Snapchat and TikTok has become one of the most popular apps used by teens. In order to remain vigilant, you will need to continually update yourself as technology changes and advances.
- Allow your children to educate you on what apps have become the most popular and how they are using apps to communicate.
- Most Internet and cellular providers have free parental controls for users to make their communications safer. There are a number of paid services available, but check with your cellular company or Internet Service Provider first to see what safeguards they already have available to you.
- To read our breakdown of the popular app TikTok, click here.
Encourage your child to use appropriate screen names that do not place them in a position of vulnerability. If a child uses the year of birth in the screen name or a screen name referencing a sexual innuendo, they could be attracting the wrong attention from person(s) online.
Screen names should not disclose personal identifying information (PII) that can used to identify your kids’ names, location, or other protected information.
Have discussions with your children about appropriate messaging online and help them understand what messages are harmful, dangerous, hurtful, rude and illegal, before they post anything.
Always assume whatever you post on the Internet remains forever and can be copied or shared to anyone without your control. A way to have this discussion is “if I would not say it in person, I should not say it online.”
If they are confused about what type of messages would violate any of your rules, encourage them to talk with you and show you a post before they put it online.
Chat rooms are one of the most dangerous areas on the Internet for users to hang out in.
Predators and traffickers posing as other children or friend to lean on use these chat rooms to befriend and groom our kids in order to gain their confidence and reduce their inhibitions to send pictures, receive pictures, or meet in person.
Have a discussion with your child that they are to never agree to meet with someone they met online unless they have discussed this with you first and you have agreed to accompany your child to an approved public place.
Pressures and the empowerment of “NO”:
- When a child meets a predator online, they quickly might feel pressured to provide personal information and images. Empower your children to say “no” and encourage them to talk with you if this is happening to them.
- Practice ways with your kids to empower them to say “NO” for unwanted requests or solicitations.
Follow your children’s social media profiles. Make it a rule that they must add you as a friend and establish appropriate boundaries for yours and their interaction online. A child is more willing to have a parent added to their social media platforms if they know their parents will not be posting or commenting on their posts. Be a silent partner online in order to monitor and moderate their Internet usage.
Changes in your child’s behavior:
- Children, tweens, and teens who have been in contact with an online predator maybe exhibit changes in their behavior that are inconsistent with how they would normally act.
- Do they immediately shut off the device or Internet when you walk in the room?
- Are they being more secretive than normal and disengaging with you
- Are they suddenly acting fearful of certain situations?
- Is your child suddenly spending a lot more time online?
- Are they receiving phone calls or text messages from strangers at all hours of the day?
- Is your child suddenly receiving gifts and you do not know where they came from?
- Have you discovered sexually explicit photos/videos on their phone or computer?
- Have you found your child is using hidden social networking accounts or secret email accounts?
- Is your child showing signs of anxiety and withdrawing from normal activity?
- Have you begun to notice physical changes in your child that deviate from their normal behavior?