It’s an arduous task protecting children. After it’s too late, devastated parents want to know how their children could have been protected. As a criminal defense investigator, almost one-third of my cases involve sexual exploitation of children. Sadly, I’ve handled more than 1600 these tragic situations. In the past, I’ve spoken to church and civic groups on this unsettling and disturbing topic.
One example of a case that haunts me: I was asked to forensically examine a laptop belonging to a thirteen year old child. The laptop contained the typical social media platforms. Within those social media platforms were pictures, videos and text of an inappropriate and enticing nature, sent directly to the child. There were subsequent text messages and photo exchanges. The end result was tragic.
Everyone seems to understand the dangers of The Internet, and we know that there are plenty of websites that are inappropriate for minors. I want to be very clear. Fewer kids are using email and websites. That means, social media platforms are the playgrounds for perverts, pedophiles and pimps.
I use the term “predator” to cover the “3 P’s” of the digital playground: perverts, pedophiles, and pimps. I define perverts as those who derive sexual gratification from something that is illegal and/or outside the “norms” of society. Pedophiles are bit more specific—adults who enjoy sexual acts with children. There are other, more specific classes of “-philes” that identify specific age groups of minors. And, the pimps? These are the “entrepreneurs” of the dark world of sex crimes. Motivated by money, they profit from their illegal sexual “business.” To keep it simple, I’ll call them predators.
Minor children (male and female) are being targeted by predators (male and female). It’s not just opposite sexes to be concerned about. An older female (even an older teen) will befriend a younger girl on social media. The same is true for boys. This has nothing to do with a child’s sexual orientation. To a predator, a child is an “object,” not a person.
Predators are seeing to “groom” (introduce, foster and normalize) children into sexual activity. Although many believe this is limited to actual physical sexual acts, it’s much broader and complicated than that. Predators seek photos and videos of children dressed, naked, and “taking direction.” Once a child is groomed into a sexualized situation, the predator has opened the door to personal contact. This can be a “date” (in the predator’s mind), but I’m seeing any contact feeding human trafficking. Children are bought, sold, and traded across jurisdictions for sex.
These tragedies are happening across the US, and all over the world. If a community has cell towers, computers, and digital devices—the predators are already there. We have a tendency to think, “This could never happen here.” It’s happening. It’s already happened. And, it will happen again.
Cellphones, tablets and any type of computer (including game systems) are “open” 24//7. Predators are hunting for children every morning, noon, and night.
Most predators make outbound contact with a potential victim on a social media platform by “liking” or commenting on a topic or photo your child is interested in. Frequently called a “DM” (direct message), the predator will often contact a child via the platform’s messaging plug in features. The messages often start with humor, or a subject a child has expressed interest in via a “fan page,” group, or “friend of a friend.” As I said above, these people are experts in children. From the initial contact, the predators often encourage children to download other apps, such as WhatsApp, SnapChat, or others. (Predators mistakenly believe these apps are 100% private.) Once contact is established, the process of grooming a child for exploitation begins. Within a few messages, these predators can convince many children to send photos, video, and identifying data.
This is the most asked questions by the families of victims. It’s also the hardest to answer. The bottom line is this, some people are evil.
There are people that are sexually attracted to children. There is no polite way to convey this concept. We can indulge in long theoretical discussion of “if” these people were once victimized. But, the bottom line is this is a horrific crime.
And, the emerging reality—exploitation of children is a business for some predators. There are people on social media, both male and female, that are actively “recruiting” children into prostitution and human trafficking. They “pimp” (sell or rent) a minor, male or female for sexual purposes, for money. The bottom line is this, exploitation of children is a crime.
Next time as an adult, you receive a message to be friends, and the messages have inappropriate materials, know that your children are receiving the same. Yes. This IS happening if your child is on social media. My advice is this: Social media is not the place for children! If your child must be on social media, monitor what they are doing.
As technology continues to change and expand at a breakneck pace, we have to be vigilant regarding social media. As quick as I can type, there are new websites, apps and social media platforms being released every day. Know what’s on your home computers, your children’s phones and other devices, and keep the communication in your home flowing both ways. This is an important topic, and we will circle back around to additional specific strategies in the very near future.`