Child luring is on the rise, according to the Canadian Centre for Child Protection.
Steven Sauer, director of Cybertip.ca, said reports of child luring are up 120 per cent over the last six months, and reports of online child exploitation are up 150 per cent in the same time period.
“I would say there’s an urgency in what we’re seeing here at the Canadian Centre for Child Protection. Kids are being groomed and lured at an alarming rate at the moment,” Saur said.
Sauer said the centre received 60 to 70 reports a month last year. Now, they regularly see 150 or more a month – with Instagram and Snapchat being the most popular platforms for child luring.
Part of this is that kids are socializing more online since the pandemic, Sauer said. Another part is that communities of predators know this, and have taken advantage of the increased access to children.
The increase is putting more pressure on investigators.
The northern Alberta Internet Child Exploitation Unit (ICE) has seen a 20 per cent increase in cases. Sgt. Kerry Shima, operations NGO, said ICE is having trouble managing the increasing number of child exploitation cases coming to the agency. They are hoping to engage the public and offer some advice on how to protect kids from online exploitation.
Shima said the largest portion of their caseload involves self-generated child sexual abuse material – kids putting images of themselves out on the internet. When this is done under solicitation, it’s child luring, he said.
Children who are lured usually believe they are talking with someone their own age, Shima said. Once the solicitor has convinced the child to share a sexual explicit image, they use it to extort the child for more pictures or for money.
The nature of this interaction makes kids reluctant to tell their parents they’re in trouble, Shima explained.
“From when they’re very little, we’re telling them that these are your private parts, we don’t share our private parts,” Shima said.
“If they’ve made a mistake online or if somebody has convinced them to release an image of themselves, or a video of themselves naked or doing something sexually explicit, you can imagine that there’s a lot of shame in that.”
The best thing parents can do, said Shima, is work on building relationships with their kids that make them feel comfortable coming forward – not to punish them or yell.
“There has to be a lot of trust there. And an environment where they feel really safe to come forward and say, ‘Listen, I made a mistake. I need help,’” Shima said. “If we’re not building that trust in making a safe place for them, they could spiral out of control and wind up down a dangerous path.”
Parents should also set boundaries about online activity, and make sure they understand the apps and platforms their kids are using. Parental guides are available for social media platforms, and Shima recommends parents read through them if their kids are spending time on those apps and sites.
Warning signs that a child may be in trouble online include sudden or extreme changes in behaviour, closed doors, withdrawal from friends and late night online activity.
Sauer said these situations can be hard to navigate, but the most important thing is to cut off communication and not give the extorter what they want. He adds the Canadian Centre for Child Protection has resources on how to manage the experience and how to recover from it.
Any kind of child luring or exploitation can be reported to ICE or to Cybertip.ca.
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