How to Protect Your Children from Predators like Jeffrey Epstein

The Epstein case should serve as a call to action for parents regarding the dangers of child trafficking—and the fact that their child(ren) could be targeted. Although many people believe that child trafficking only occurs in foreign countries, it is unfortunately a thriving business in the United States. This case was a classic example—it involved identifying vulnerable children and youth, preying upon their vulnerabilities, gradually wearing away resistance to sexual exploitation and abuse, paying the children for sex, asking them to recruit other young girls for sex, and offering them to other men.

Recently, I hosted a meeting with experts in the prevention of child trafficking from the World Childhood Foundation, who also warned about the dangers of the internet and how it’s used to lure children and teens into this dark web of crime. The anonymity and accessibility offered by the internet, which offenders use to their advantage, enables them to prey upon vulnerable children. It also allows offenders to coordinate in networks, helps them circulate child sexual abuse materials, allows them to “place orders” for children or request “live-streaming” of abuse. Parents need to know that adolescents and teens might be coerced and paid to stream pornographic images of themselves from the privacy of their own bedrooms!

The average age that girls enter the commercial sex trade is 12 to 14 , and for boys it’s 11 to 13.

Here’s how parents can protect their children from the danger of being trafficked through the internet.

  • Children under age 7 should be very closely monitored. They should not be exposed to social media without parental controls, as developmentally, they are not ready to comprehend what might pop up, particularly violent, graphic images. Parents should diligently monitor the TV, computer, newspapers and more to make sure that children are not exposed to graphic videos and photos. You can’t “unsee” something. Once they view it, it is in their brain forever.

  • Have a conversation with your children about safety when using different forms of social media and communication—from Instagram to texting and anything in between. Culture today seems to promote “anything goes” in regards to self-expression, but there needs to be a talk about what constitutes appropriate behavior and what actions could have huge repercussions that damage their reputation, are harmful to others, or could be a ruse to traffic them sexually.

It is an awkward but a necessary conversation, but if you aren’t comfortable talking aloud about this, you can hand them this list to read.

  • Be smart about what you post online. It is a lot more public than it seems. Protect your space. Use privacy settings and don’t just randomly accept everyone’s request as a friend. Do a bit of investigating to find out more about them first. Don’t use your real name or give out too much personal information on social media sites.

  • Provocative and sexy names and pictures can draw attention from people you don’t want in your life, particularly online predators.

  • Posting or sending sexy photos of yourself (sexting) can get you into big trouble with the law. If you are underage, they may be considered child pornography, a serious crime. Never take an image of yourself that you wouldn’t want your parents, teachers or employers to see. Think twice or three times before you post. You can’t take it back and it’s out there forever.

  • You have no control over where photos go next once you share them. The image that you meant for your boyfriend or girlfriend can be sent to their friends, and their friends and their friends. If you forward a sexual photo of someone underage, you are as responsible as the original sender. You could face child pornography charges, go to jail, and be legally required to register as a sex offender. You could also be asked to leave a sports team, be humiliated in public, or lose educational opportunities and have legal problems. Here is a video from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (2 minutes), in which teens discuss the dangers of online posting.

  • Report any nude pictures that you receive to an adult that you trust. Do not delete the message; get your parents or guardian, teacher or school counselor involved immediately.

  • Adults who talk to you about sex online are committing a crime. So are adults who meet underage teens for sex. Some teens might think it’s fun, but it is serious trouble and best to report it to the police. You can also make a report through Cyber Tipline.

  • Be careful if you go in person to meet someone whom you met on the internet. You might think you know them well, but you don’t. Tell your parents or someone you trust before you go. Don’t go alone; bring a friend. Always meet in a public place. Make sure you have your cell phone and an exit plan.

Visit SafeKids.com for many more excellent resources for protecting children and teens from online dangers.

Parents, keep tabs on your child, even when they protest. You will rest easier knowing that they are safe from online predators.

Mary L. Pulido Ph.D. is the executive director of the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. For more information on keeping your children safe, visit nyspcc.org.

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