The world has been so focused on a battle with health and economic effects of the coronavirus, we have scarcely noticed the tandem issue of online child abuse and exploitation. As our children and young adults spend more time indoors and online, the already out-of-control crime of online child exploitation grows as well, in the United States and abroad.
According to statistics from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, report of child exploitation nearly doubled from 6.3 million in the first half of 2019 to 12 million through June 2020. Reports of online enticement similarly spiked during that timeframe, from 6,863 to 13,268. What may begin as a simple chatting between strangers online can lead to "sextortion," abduction, and trafficking.
Victims of such exploitation are at greater risk of substance abuse, mental health issues, and long-term physical health problems. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that compared with other health problems, the cost of child maltreatment like sexual abuse is substantial, with an annual estimated average of $210,000 per child who has been victimized.
There are signs to when a child or young person may be the target of abuse and exploitation online, but as schools continue COVID lockdowns, it becomes increasingly difficult to be detected by those outside the child's immediate household.
§ Spending increasing time on the internet
§ Increasingly secrecy, hiding phone and computer screens
§ Nervousness when answering and/or taking calls in private
§ Leaving home with little explanation
§ Developing new friendships, but offering little information about them
§ Hesitancy or resistance to being along with a particular individual
§ Mood swings, not seeming "themselves"
§ Outburst of anger
§ Self harm
If you are worried, recognize that your child or a child you care about may be frightened, too. Talk to someone you trust, or seek the support of a professional.