The Internet is a wonderful place for education, socializing and finding out what is happening in the world. However, minors can face risk on line. Currently, social media is the major means for recruiting children and teens for sex trafficking. Traffickers recruit both boys and girls online and child pornography can be shared instantly on line and between friends.
Children and youth face risk on line just as they do any place where people congregate. It is important to be aware that social networking and chat rooms are being used by traffickers to recruit both boys and girls to sell them for sex, use them in pornography, or the adult entertainment industry. Just like coffee shops and malls, chatting online can be great places for conversations with friends to take place, but they can also be places where unwanted requests for relationships are not clearly defined.
The following story led us to our most recent billboard campaign.
Tevon Harris, a 22 year old in Houston, Texas, pled guilty to the charges of child sex trafficking. He met with girls who he knew were minors and gained their trust by talking with them about their goals and dreams. He would tell them that he was going to help them become models then asked to meet them in person. Instead he picked them up, he took them to hotel rooms, forced them to take drugs, raped them, and deprived them of their cell phones—cutting off communication with the outside world. He took their photos and posted them on line as advertisements for prostitution. Then he forced them to meet with people who would buy them online and kept all the money that he received.
We have heard many stories like this which show how chatting with strangers can be dangerous. Most kids use the Internet and never have a problem. However, everyone needs to be aware that it can present opportunities to harm children.
Safety Tips for Teenagers
- In chat rooms be sure your screen name is different from your real name. That way if you get into a conversation that makes you uncomfortable you can exit without the person knowing who you are.
- Avoid posting things that reveal who you are (ex. the name of your school, where your team meets, etc.). That way they cannot find you another way.
- Avoid posting pictures if there is a chance that they could get into the wrong hands. You can’t always control how your picture is seen.
- If you are made to feel uncomfortable or feel you are in danger tell an adult that you trust.
- To avoid stumbling onto explicit images or chat rooms where someone may take advantage of you, stay in safe online places.
- Never agree to do something that makes you feel uncomfortable.
Safety Tips for Parents and Caregivers
- Consider keeping the computer in a common area of the house instead of a child’s bedroom and monitor its use.
- Encourage your child to tell you if they receive any information that causes them to feel uncomfortable.
- Set reasonable rules and guidelines for computer use by your children. Post them as a reminder.
- Learn about computers and the services your child uses. Find out what types of information they offer and whether there are ways for parents to block/filter objectionable material.
- Communicate with your children about sexual victimization and potential on-line danger.
- Remember to spend quality time with your children. Computers and online services should not be used as babysitters.
Many mobile apps have the potential to expose kids to harmful content and harmful interactions. However, they also play a part in the ways teens interact with one another. Dozens of new apps are introduced daily and their popularity changes daily. It is important to set general rules and expectations about how your children download apps rather than banning them. These three rules of thumb are general tips regarding mobile devices.
- Restrict app downloads, and set expectations that new apps should only be downloaded once the child has discussed its pros and cons with you..
- Become a friend/follower of the teen’s social media account.
- Have your teen’s use your app store account or an account linked to your email so you will be notified when an app is downloaded.
Apps are being added daily; however, below are a few apps that are currently especially popular with kids.
Instagram is a photo snapping, editing and posting app. Users take a photo, video, apply a filter to enhance or modify, and they can instantly share it with other Instagram users. It can be shared with people on Facebook, Twitter, as well as other servers.
Watch Out For: Talk with your teen about appropriate pictures and privacy settings. Instagram can also display a map of where the photos were taken; this, too, can be toggled off and on to prevent kids from disclosing their location. The app is a fun way to view posts from around the world regarding a variety of topics but it can also provide a way to view posts about self-harm.
Kik : An instant messaging app with over 100 million users that allows users to exchange videos pictures and sketches. Users can also send You-Tube videos and create memes and digital gifts.
Watch Out For: Youth using the app for sexting and sending nude selfies is common. The term “Sext Buddy” is replacing “Kid Buddy.” No parental controls are available with Kik and there is no way to authenticate users, which makes it easy for the sexual predator to use the app to interact with minors.
Snapchat’s concept is delightfully simple. Kids take a picture or video, send it to anyone on their friend list, and the image disappears after a predetermined time set by the sender.
Watch out for: Typically kids use Snapchat to share funny photos with each other; it is also used for sexting because they think it is a safer way to share explicit images. However, the user can take a screen shot and share the photos with others. These images can easily be shared in revenge porn sites called “Snap Porn.” Parents and kids need to be aware that the Snap Chat Snap Map feature discloses a users location when they post the picture. To turn off this feature, select “Ghost mode” in Snapchat settings.
Musical.ly, through the app, users can create a 15 second to a minute videos and choose sound tracks to accompany them. Think Karaoke for the digital age. The app also allows users to browse popular users called “musers” content, trending songs, sounds and hashtags. The goal is for many “musers” to have a featured video. These are videos chosen by the Musical.ly and appear in the featured feed.
Watch out for: Users can be exposed to bad language and sexual content. Users can comment on other videos, which leaves the potential for online bullying and negative comments. Parents should consider making a children’s Musical.ly account private and be sure that they are being followed only by people that they know and trust. Although Musical.ly says it restricts users to over 13 and teens between 13 and 18 must have parental permission, when signing up Musical.ly does not require the user to enter birthday or age. Anyone with an e-mail account can sign up. Currently accounts cannot be deleted.
Creating Family Rules for Internet Use
Some of the decisions to consider in creating family rules would include:
- Do you want your children to ask you before they access the Internet?
- Do you want to limit the amount of time your children are online? If so how much time per week or day?
- Do you want to permit your children to use e-mail? If so do you want to share an e-mail account with them or have access to their own account?
- Do you want to specify when your children may access the Internet? If so, which hours?
- Do you want to permit your children to instant message? If so, do you want to approve their buddy list and require them to provide you with an updated copy of it?
- Do you want to permit your children to enter chat rooms and social net working sites? If so, do want to limit them to certain ones that you have approved?
When possible, have your family computer rules in place before your children begin using the computer.
Children will find it easier to accept and follow rules that have already been established.
Rules provided by North Carolina Dpartment of Justice