In 2020, the FBI opened 3,300 child exploitation cases, and arrested over 1,600 offenders involved. They were able to locate 1,400 child victims. The victims’ ages ranged from tender years to 12, but most of the victims were between the ages of 10-16. Crimes against children are happening locally. It’s not something far away that we can neglect. It’s happening to your children’s friends, it’s happening in local schools, it’s happening to the children you see around town. With the knowledge and awareness of what’s happening in our area, here is how you can help your children be safe on the internet, with social media, and with helping identify the warning signs of children who are being sexually exploited in our area.
Senior Supervisory Resident Agent Jared Simpson of the FBI moved to the Texarkana area to work closely with Miller County police and other local law enforcement offices to help families in our area and Southern Arkansas prepare, provide help, and seek justice for crimes against children happening in our area. “What parents need to understand is that this could happen to any child or teenager. Whether you monitor your children’s passwords and internet closely, or not. It can happen, and it is happening,” said Simpson.
According to Simpson and FBI Public Affairs Officer Conor Hagan, it’s up to every parent to determine how strict they will be with their children’s social media presence and how often they will monitor their children’s internet usage.
We have all been teenagers. We all know how badly we want to be secretive, and want to hide things from our parents. Teenagers haven’t changed at all. Social media, and the willingness of offenders to get to your children and teens have changed. They will do any and everything to keep your children silent by blackmailing them into sextortion (the sending of explicit images of anyone under the age of 18). “”As parents it’s imperative that you inform and talk with your children about the real life dangers that are taking place here in our area, and how to help them or even their friends if they suspect that any type of sextortion is taking place,” said Simpson.
The majority of the cases that are being seen by the FBI are strictly online child exploitation. Children and teens through XBOX, PS4, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok etc., are meeting fake people online and are coerced into believing they are talking to someone their age. A lot of the time young girls are the most vulnerable. For many young teen girls, they want to feel safe and heard by their peers. Offenders are using this to their advantage by gaining the trust of young girls and then encouraging them to send explicit images of themselves.
“Most of the time it starts off as innocent friends online getting to know one another. The moment the victim feels safe and secure and sends just one image, the offender will use that image as an opportunity to blackmail them. They will threaten to expose the victim by sending the images to family and friends. They will ask for money or more. Those images are then distributed online for other offenders to buy and sell. Many children and teens who are victims of sextortion will be withdrawn, secretive and quiet. Many of them won’t know how to come to their parents or friends about what’s going on because they are being blackmailed. The best way to stop offenders is to inform and encourage children to be open with their social media with parents, and to remind them about what sextortion looks like so they can stop it before it happens,” says Simpson.
“One of the most important things you can do is encourage your children to be mindful, and to remind them that if they are not 100% positive they know the person in real life they shouldn’t communicate with them online. It only takes ONE image sent for that image to be online forever. It never goes away. Snapchat is one of the best examples of images being online forever. Just because it disappears from view for a moment, doesn’t mean that it’s actually gone. Every image sent online has a trace, and can be used against anyone at any time. Many teens believe that if they send one image it’s gone forever, and that’s not the case,” said Hagan. It’s important to remind and inform children and teens that sending one picture of themselves, whether innocent or explicit, will remain online forever. This is how offenders are getting to our children and teens. Stopping the spread of sextortion starts with informing parents and children about the dangers of meeting strangers online, and sending them any sort of information or personal images.
If you are concerned that your child is being exploited, or if you know of someone who is, you can report it to your local FBI Office, or any local law enforcement agency. You can also do it online anonymously by visiting FBI.gov or missingkids.org.