According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), the number of annual reports to CyberTipline has grown rapidly from less than 10,000 in 1999 to over half a million in 2013, to over 1,000,000 in 2014; and to more than 16 million in 2019 alone.
While the number of reports has increased at an almost unimaginable rate in recent years, the act of coaxing children through social networks – Online Enticement has also shown a spike, especially during the Covid-19.
So, on which platform do the online predators hunt your child? Who is most vulnerable? What are the signs of Online Enticement? And How to protect your child from online predators? This article will help parents answer those questions!
What is Online Enticement?
Online enticement occurs when someone uses different motives and tactics to entice children online.
Typically, online enticement of children includes enticing a child to take and share sexually explicit images of himself or herself, soliciting a child to meet face-to-face for sexual purposes, or engaging a child in sexual conversations or role-playing, or in some cases, the predator uses sensitive photos/videos the child sends to sell or trade with others.
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This behavior can happen to a wide range of victims at once and across all social media platforms.
Portrait of online predators
Of the nearly 6,000 online predators listed in the NCMEC report, more than 80% are male. Although the NCMEC has not been able to calculate the average age of offenders, some reports indicate that predators are often in their teens and late adulthood, some even in the late ’70s.
Of the total offenders, 98% are unfamiliar with children in real life and only 2% are likely to know. In addition, among offenders who know children, more than half are family members, and more than half are identified as men.
The most common offenders who knew the child were their parents/step-parents (57%) or siblings (37%); Further family relationships such as aunts, uncles, and cousins are quite rare.
In contrast, nearly 80% of reported child victims were girls while boys made up 14%. Child victims are typically between the ages of 1 and 17, with an average age of 15.
In addition, before or at the time of online enticement, child victims often had certain problems such as a history of mental health, developmental disorders, had talked online with strangers before or have a history of selling pornographic materials online, a history of absconding, or some type of family history of abuse.
What is the goal of online predators?
Most commonly, offenders want to:
- Receive sensitive and sexually explicit images of children (60%)
- Face-to-face contact and have sex with children (32%)
- Engaging in online sex conversations/roles with children (8%)
- To achieve some financial goal (2%), it may be to use children’s sensitive content to sell to others.
In addition, there are other, less common targets such as attempting to use children for sex trafficking, whether in person or online; wants to take revenge on children by distributing their sensitive content to others, etc.
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What platforms do online predators often use?
Offenders tend to reach children on social networks or chat sites, where they can easily meet children online.
In addition, they do not use these platforms throughout the conversation with the child because it depends on the seducer’s ultimate goal. If their primary goal is to obtain child pornography, they often try to switch to other platforms where they risk less detection, such as anonymous messaging apps, websites web or text messaging, or live streaming apps.
Similarly, when sex-related conversation/role-playing is the goal, offenders often turn conversations to similar types of sites (except for live streams) for ease of communication and anonymity.
And if real-life sex is the primary goal, offenders are more likely to turn to phones or live streaming apps to get children’s phone numbers.
Signs of seducing children behaviors through social networks
The NCMEC report summarizes the ways that sexual attackers often target children:
- Involving children into sex-related conversations or role-playing with sex-related characters
- Ask children to take and send sensitive pictures/videos of themselves
- Develop a positive relationship with your child by praising your child’s appearance and body, and discussing what both of you have in common or take actions that show interest/empathy, “like” and comment on their child’s social media posts, etc.
- Sexual attackers send their own pornographic images to children
- Pretending to be younger than your child, possibly by lying and sometimes through perjury when registering for an online account
- Ask the children to exchange pictures back and forth in exchange for accomplishing their goal such as money, gift cards, etc.; promise to buy children something they like; even alcohol, drugs, tobacco, and other necessities such as lodging, transportation, or food.
In addition, the offenders used a variety of other methods such as:
- Pretending as a model, photographer, or someone known by the child using a fake or stolen account;
- Save and take pictures of the child without the child’s permission;
- Uses automated systems to communicate with children to potentially trap victims on a large scale
- Ask children to rate and comment on a (usually pornographic) picture of the offender.
In addition, from a child’s perspective, children sometimes engage in behaviors that put themselves at greater risk of abuse, such as lying about their age when creating an online account; chat online with strangers, and; provide strangers with sexually explicit messages or images in exchange for money, alcohol or drugs, accommodation, transportation, or gifts.
6 tips to keep children safe from Online Enticement
- Build a trusting, open relationship with your child
Keep communication open and calm so your child knows they can share anything with you when someone asks them to do something they don’t feel right or when someone shows them content that upsets your child, such as pornography.
Online attackers often send pornographic materials to stimulate their curiosity.
- Communicate regularly with your child about the online dangers
Communication is always one of the most effective ways on how to keep your child safe on social media, minimizing the risk of committing dangerous behaviors. You should be up-to-date on exactly what risks children are exposed to online, negative trends in teen behaviors, or find out what features of online predators have in common.
Any app that allows kids to chat with others is indeed a potential place for online predators to attack them.
- Teach your child to be cautious of signs of inappropriate relationships
To keep children safe from online sexual exploitation, you need to regularly remind your child of some signs to help him realize that a stranger is trying to develop an unusual relationship with him/her. These signs were mentioned above.
- Make your child’s account private
One of the most important tips on how to keep your child safe is on social media. You should ask your child to make their social media accounts private or modify their privacy settings so they can control who can see their photos and posts. By adjusting privacy settings, they can limit information online to only the people they know.
You should also encourage your child to use only his name or nickname when chatting online and on social media, and never reveals his or her phone number, address, or school. Besides, they also need to delete contacts that they really don’t know as well as don’t accept friend requests with strangers.
- How to protect my child on the Internet? Teach them digital skills
Because criminals are so ubiquitous on social media, they communicate and talk to minors in a variety of ways, so you need to help them understand that attackers can be anyone, any profession, and do not talk to strangers online.
Teaching your children real-life skills will never be enough, to better protect them, especially when both you and your child depend a lot on the Internet, you need to teach your children digital soft skills to help them better protect themselves and become responsible users of the Internet.
In addition, staying at home and using the Internet regularly puts your child at a particularly high risk of exposure to pornography and other types of inappropriate content such as drugs, accidents, gore, terrorism, murder, etc. Therefore, many parents are now using online content filtering tools to reduce the risk of their children accessing harmful content, but without infringing their children’s online privacy.
- Watch out for your child’s unusual mental signs
Some signs like staying up too late, staying away from family members, suddenly do not want to use social media, low self-esteem, quiet, etc. It could very well be a sign that your child has been sexually assaulted online or has become a victim of online violence. Being clever will help you understand and solve the problem in time.
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