Children’s bodies being sold. This is not a new topic, however, with the lack of resources and ever evolving technology, putting human traffickers behind bars has become even more challenging. We sat down with Detective Sgt. Brandon James of the Seattle Police Department and Jim Fuda of Crime Stoppers to talk about the issue.
To lend perspective, 1 in 25 children will be solicited for sex online. That was a 2017 pre-pandemic study, so Fuda suspects that number is even higher. Think of the level or resources it takes to try to combat that amount of predators. We are seeing the trickle down effect of vaccine mandates and the labor shortage across our country, including in the security world. The Seattle Police Department is also seeing that. The number of investigators they have, just fell and the job is already more demanding because of new technology. Calls come in all the time about incidents involving exploited children. One of the more recent, elementary school kids who sent inappropriate pictures through apps. What concerns both James and Fuda, is the ongoing lack of awareness of the danger that lurks online.
James often has to parent the parents, explaining that a child does not have a right to privacy on a device. We preach stranger danger, but he reminds us all that when we allow a child to speak with strangers online, we are inviting into our homes. It is the same thing. Children need to realize just because someone says they’re 12 years old, doesn’t make it true.
The hard part is once these children are targeted, the grooming begins. It starts innocently enough, questions like, what’s your favorite hobby, do you have a dog, what kind of music do you like. Then the perpetrator finds out details, like where the child goes to school and uses them. It goes from asking for pictures of a puppy, to the child’s “pretty face” and the decline progresses. Then if the child wants to tell, sometimes they can’t because of fear. Predators will threaten harming loved ones. Once inappropriate pictures are out there, there’s no way for them not to be. The bottom line is parents should be monitoring everything online, especially video chats. It is very hard to recover evidence from chats.
It’s also important to get tip lines out there! You can contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-843-5678 or cybertipline.org. Someone can also reach out to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS or by using the P3Tips mobile app.
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