In the wake of the COVID Global Pandemic, children are at higher risk for commercial sexual exploitation. With social distancing recommendations and national closures, there has been an increase in the online demand for child sexual exploitation materials according to Human Rights Watch. The United Nations has also reported that during COVID-19, traffickers are using the virtual space as an alternative form of exploitation by setting up live-streams to groom children and distribute child pornography. Additionally, due to school closures, children are spending more time online, possibly feeling isolated, bored and lonely, which increases their vulnerability to predators.
The Polaris Project created a report identifying ways in which traffickers use social media for recruitment, trafficking operations, and as a means to control victims. These methods included developing online relationships, posting fake or deceptive job advertisements, advertising and exploiting victims via social media and stalking or monitoring victim’s social media accounts.
With the added disruption of COVID-19, there has not been a decline in trafficking, rather it has forced traffickers to utilize other exploitative methods. The FBI reports that with increased screen time and online use, traffickers are taking advantage of those who are sharing their financial or personal hardships online as a way to find potential victims. While social media is not inherently bad, with increased accessibility, use and popularity among children during the pandemic, they may put at an increased risk of being exploited without taking proper precautions.
Our Open Doors Outreach Teams have seen firsthand how frequently traffickers use social media, chat rooms, video games and other virtual communication platforms to gain access and recruit victims to become commercially sexually exploited. Practicing online safety is a critical way to help prevent sex trafficking recruitment. Below are some recommendations from non-profit organization Enough is Enough to help protect yourself and others.
How to Stay Safe Online:
With these tips, safety is the primary concern and must be an ongoing effort. Always take privacy into consideration when spending time in the virtual space. It is best not to share personal information, send photos to people you meet online, share passwords or respond to messages from people you don’t know or that are threatening in any way. It is also a good idea to never agree to meet in-person with someone you’ve met online, avoid public chat rooms and webcams, use screen names instead of your real name and apply privacy settings when you can.
Before allowing children to use the virtual space, it is best to establish open communication to teach them about the previously mentioned boundaries. Preview websites your children wish to visit and make sure you feel comfortable before allowing access and occasionally check their browser history. Additional precautions include disallowing access to chat rooms and setting age-appropriate filters and restrictions, such as turning off webcams and turning on parental controls.
If you suspect you or someone you know may be a victim of human trafficking, please call:
National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1 (888) 373-7888
Florida DCF Abuse Hotline: 1 (800) 962-2873
About the Author
Micheala Denny is a graduate of Florida State University, having attained Master Degrees in Social Work, Geography, and Political Science. She received her Bachelor of Science from the University of Idaho. Micheala brings with her a vast background and intricate knowledge in advocating for victims of sexual violence. Some of her past employment experience consists of serving as the Executive Director for the Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault, Director of Program Development for the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence and the Director of the Women’s Resource Center at Bucknell University.