Social media has become a widely used outlet for child grooming. Predators are extremely skilled in gathering information from a child’s online activity in an attempt to make them a victim of human trafficking. This process can happen quickly or take a sufficient amount of time, depending on the situation. As parents, we encourage you to educate yourselves on the severity of this issue so that you can be more aware and teach your child to protect themselves online.
To a child, they may not even be aware that an online “friend” is a predator attempting to groom them. Oftentimes, these predators will catfish their victims by lying about their age and name. They do this in an attempt to gain the trust of the child in order to gather more personal information. Once they have developed a relationship with the child, they use this trust to prey on the child’s insecurities, desires and vulnerabilities. They act as a support system for the child, sympathizing with their issues and assuring them that they will keep their secrets safe. This brings the child down a deep hole where they begin telling these predators very personal stories that they would not want others to know about.
As a child, leaked secrets can feel like a very scary thing. These predators will use this information as leverage to continue abusing their victims. They will begin introducing sexual conversation and/or sending gifts with the hopes that the child will feel dependent on this new relationship. If this is the case with your child, our Alerts feature was designed to identify sexual vocabulary and phrases so that parents can become involved if necessary.
How can you protect your child from getting themselves in these types of situations? Be a strong, reliable support system. Make it so that they don’t feel the need to turn to “online friends” to talk about their problems. Consistently remind them that they can come to you with anything and you will always be open to conversation. If your child feels surrounded by people who have their best interests at heart, they will not go looking for this comfort and reassurance on the internet. Hopefully, they will then feel comfortable coming to you if they begin communicating with a new online friend. However, as they often can’t recognize a safe online friend from a dangerous one, especially when they first begin interacting with others online, your parental guidance may be necessary.
This is a huge reason why Cyber Dive is creating monitoring tools to assist parents in starting these important conversations in an effort to protect their children. If you see that your child is adding new friends on Instagram that you are not familiar with, you can talk to them about it. If you see that they are posting personal information like their hometown, school or favorite hangout spots, you can discuss the dangers of sharing this with their online community. Even with private accounts, this information is easily accessible and open to the public. They should be giving every post and message a good amount of thought before sharing them with the world. They should also be very particular about the friends they add on social media so that they can avoid opening themselves up to potential grooming. Teaching your child the signs of grooming will increase their awareness and your confidence in allowing them to explore and interact with friends online.
If you have become aware that a stranger is messaging your child, hoping to build a relationship, you need to take action immediately. Start by gathering all of the information that has been exchanged between your child and their predator. While it is likely their account is not who they say they are, this information can be very beneficial when reporting to officials. From there, you can contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center and they can provide you with the next steps in reporting this predator.
We of course recommend that you block and report this account on the social platform they were contacting your child through. Go through all of the information posted to your child’s social profile and delete anything that may include personal information. It is necessary to have conversations with your child about how they got to this point, the danger they put themselves in and how to avoid traumatic situations like this in the future. Your child is learning the dos and don’ts of internet safety and so are you. Remind yourself that the wellbeing of your child will always be a priority and you have saved them from the situation escalating any further. Use this as a learning opportunity to take a safer approach in the future and spread awareness about the sickening crime that has become so evident in our society.
As a progressive content moderation company, our goal is to bring awareness to the things your child experiences online so that they can experience wellness offline. Your involvement will make it so that your child does not seek out emotional support and connection from strangers online. If your home is a safe space where open conversation is encouraged and initiated often, your child will be at a lesser risk of becoming a victim of grooming. If they are approached through social media, they will not be afraid to come to you because you have talked with them about the dangers of grooming. Cyber Dive is partnered with two nonprofit organizations; StreetLightUSA and Phoenix Dream Center. With their expertise in human trafficking, our AI software is able to enhance its intelligence so that it is equipped to find trigger words for grooming and recruiting. By monitoring their online activity, you can be assured that you have all the necessary information to catch warning signs and intervene to protect your child.
If you know someone who is involved in human sex trafficking or think you may be a victim, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text 233733. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911. To find a Safe Place text "safe" and your current location (city/state/zip) to 4HELP (44357).