Pandemic causes spike in online child exploitation

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — National experts are speaking out about a chilling statistic, showing a major spike in child exploitation during the pandemic.  

“In the month of March this year, was a 106% increase of child exploitation incidences online from the march of last year,” said Brent Hutchinson, Executive Director of the Davis House Child Advocacy Center.  

That number comes from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. It shows more than two million reports of online child exploitation in March alone, when the pandemic began shutting things down.  

“It’s very concerning and it’s very scary,” parent Ago Ukeje said. “Parents, all of us, should be concerned that strangers could reach their children.” 

But with kids getting more screen time that ever during the pandemic, experts say they’re not surprised.  

“That moment of craving and needing that connection then provides an opportunity for those online who want to do harm to children to take advantage of that in ways that are subtle, in ways that build trust,” Obama Foundation CEO David Simas said.  

So what can you do as a parent? Experts from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children say open dialogue beats reading all their messages or any software you could buy. 

“You want them to come to you if they’re experiencing something that’s starting to feel uncomfortable or starting to send up warning flags for them,” said Susan Kennedy, program manager at The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. 

For parents like Ukeje, he’s made sure his children know internet safety from a young age. 

“If the website is unsecure I don’t go on it. I make sure the website has very good privacy,” his 8-year-old daughter Mmesoma Ukeje said.” 

 He says it’s a lesson you can never teach too early.  

“Whether online or anywhere you are you have to monitor your surroundings, so when you’re online you have to monitor what you do online.” 

Keep in mind, exploitation can happen among peers, not just online predators. Kennedy says you need to make sure your child is familiar with the privacy and blocking settings on whatever social media accounts they’re using.  

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