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Children could be at “increased risk” for online exploitation as the coronavirus prompts schools to close, officials say.
Across the country, districts have told students to stay home to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Though adults make up most reported cases of the disease, children can spread it to others, health experts say.
Outside the classroom, there’s potential that kids will be on computers more often as lessons move online, the FBI said Monday in a news release.
Increased internet use could make children targets for sexual exploitation, the federal agency warns. Those behaviors can include convincing a child to send explicit photos or arranging an in-person meet-up, officials say.
Sometimes, predators also threaten minors through blackmail, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
“In order for the victimization to stop, children typically have to come forward to someone they trust — typically a parent, teacher, caregiver, or law enforcement,” the FBI said. “The embarrassment of being enticed and/or coerced to engage in unwanted behavior is what often prevents children from coming forward.”
How can I keep my child safe?
To help prevent online exploitation, parents can monitor their children’s computer use and put up privacy settings, according to the FBI. Officials also recommend talking to kids about online safety and encouraging them to report inappropriate online conversations to an adult.
“Victims should not be afraid to tell law enforcement if they are being sexually exploited,” the FBI said in its news release. “It is not a crime for a child to send sexually explicit images to someone if they are compelled or coerced to do so.”
Though parents may want to keep their children offline to reduce the chances of victimization, officials in 2018 said kids likely are often exposed to the internet through school.
“It is important for parents to strike a balance between the benefits and risks that the Internet poses to children,” the U.S. Department of Justice said at the time.
Parents should also teach their children about appropriate interactions with adults, including caregivers they may spend time with face-to-face during the coronavirus pandemic, according to the FBI.
Children who are victims of in-person abuse may show changes, including “an increase in nightmares, withdrawn behavior, angry outbursts, anxiety, depression, not wanting to be left alone with an individual, and sexual knowledge,” officials warn.
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