Crime Prevention: child exploitation online

Published: Nov. 16, 2023 at 10:46 PM CST
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LAWTON, Okla. (KSWO) - The internet can be a dangerous place sometimes, and according to an official with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, even though it’s improved life in multiple ways, the internet has made it easier for kids to be exploited.

Callahan Walsh a child advocate with the agency said during 2022, they received over 32 million reports of child exploitation.

“Parents need to be talking to their children about making safe and smart decisions online from a very early age,” said Walsh. “As soon as a child is starting to get on the internet that’s when parents really need to have those conversations to make sure children are empowered to understand those risky situations and learn how to avoid them. But especially for young children you need to make sure that that information is easy for them to understand.”

Walsh said these conversations should mature as the child gets older, and he wants people to know it’s important to report online exploitation just as any other crime that could happen in person.

“If they’re out shopping and they see something happen, or in their neighborhood and see something. People know they can go and report these crimes and that helps law enforcement. The public can be that force multiplier, the eyes and the ears. The boots on the ground when law enforcement can’t be everywhere,” Walsh said. “You can report any instances of child sexual abuse online to the cyber tip line. There is a way to fight back.”

Walsh added these aren’t just photos that are being shared, and this is far from a victimless crime.

“Unfortunately with some of our victims who have been extorted and perhaps their images and content has been leaked online, that’s sometimes the first content you see when you google their name. So obviously that can follow them around when it comes to education, going to college, getting a job, having future relationships. It’s something that haunts and follows these kids for a long time,” said Walsh.

There are ways for parents to reduce the chances of their child becoming a victim.

First, know the different apps and sites they’re using, and second, create ground rules when it comes to their usage and stick to them.

Walsh stated the best way to combat the issue is to be active, and not to hesitate when reporting sexual content with minors.

“Internet has created life for the better in so many ways, but it’s created more ways to exploit children,” added Walsh. “If you believe a child is being sexually abused, report that, you could be the reason that child is rescued from that situation.”

Luckily, taking down a photo isn’t entirely impossible, because of a service they recently implemented called ‘Take-It-Down.’