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The Journals are the premier publications for high-quality, hyperlocal news and advertising in Monmouth County, New Jersey

Sep 23, 2020

How to Protect Children Who May Be in Danger on Their Devices

By Lori Draz

Apart from the physical dangers of the coronavirus, the COVID-19 crisis has manifested many secondary dangers, like marked increases in domestic violence, depression, alcoholism, drug abuse and suicide. Another chilling statistic is the dramatic rise in child pornography. Child predators are taking advantage of the increased online time during quarantine to locate child victims through social media and popular apps like Tik Tok, Kik, Skout, Paltalk, Yubo, Omegle, Chat Roulette, Hot or Not and many others, including gaming apps like Minecraft and Fortnite.

One of the sickening statistics is the rising number of victims in the newest category, children aged 7 to 9.

Recently, New Jersey law enforcement detectives from all over the state announced that their covert “Operation Screen Capture” had located more than two dozen child pornographers ranging in age from 18 to 71, and their work is ongoing.

The offenders are a diverse group. Some are first time while others are repeat offenders from all walks of life. The one common thread is that they are taking advantage of the increased time children and teens are spending on mobile devices during the shutdown to prey on the innocent.

In one case, a Keansburg man conned a 14-year-old girl to carve his initials into her leg. Another shocking story is of a Newark woman who broadcasted herself performing a sexual act on a toddler while she was babysitting. Some even traveled from out of state to meet underage New Jersey victims. Charges include possession of child porn and child rape videos, soliciting and sharing child pornography.

There were almost 50 percent more tips sent to New Jersey’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force this March through July compared to the same time last year. The New Jersey State Police also receives tips from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

New Jersey State Police Dsg. Paul Sciortino shared that the concern for even greater rises in abuses continues during the fall and winter as schools remain teaching remotely and the cooler weather means even more time indoors.

“You never know who is really behind cute screen names like Flowergirl or Luvstochat,” he said. “These predators are very clever at building the confidence of children who think their ‘new friend really gets me. They’re just like me.’ Some even convince kids to send in pictures for contests or to meet celebrities. Before you know it, these criminals are manipulating young people – in some cases, even arranging in person meetings. We have taught our kids not to talk to strangers with candy, yet they wind up talking to the virtual version of these predators. It’s simple. Parents must be very involved in the child’s use of devices. They may complain, but you are saving them from unspeakable consequences.”

Sciortino also recommends that parents become familiar with the latest apps. “New ones pop up all the time, and whether it’s the popular ones like Instagram or the newer ones, learn them.”

Check the security settings on your kids’ phones and games, he said.

Keep the conversation active. Ask who your child is chatting with and never stop reminding them that cute screen names can be hiding a monster. You must also remind them to never, under any circumstances, take nude or sexual photos and post them.

Parents should also watch for sly or secretive behavior in their kids. Has their personality changed? He advised against letting kids keep phones and devices in their rooms.

Sciortino also shared that while the special task force’s classroom educational programs may not be able to be conducted, the department remains available to do virtual lectures for classes and to do educational programs for parents groups, seniors and more.

To arrange a lecture, contact the New Jersey State Police Internet Crimes Unit at 609-584-5051, ext. 5633 or LPPH310@njsp.org.

If you suspect your child or one of their friends may be involved with a possible predator, call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 800-843-5678 or visit report.cybertip.org.