ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Online enticement of children has increased 97.5% amid the pandemic, according to new data released by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
In an average year, the organization’s cyber tip line gets about 16 to 17 million reports of potential crimes against children online. In 2020, reports went up to more than 21 million.
“A lot of it was focused on the fact that we were living through a pandemic and kids were spending, and still are spending, an enormously large amount of time online. Many more kids were empowered with electronic devices from their schools and their families just so they could get their school work done and still be connected through education,” said Ed Suk, the Executive Director of National Center for Missing and Exploited Children New York Regional Office.
With kids spending more time online with virtual schooling and fewer extracurricular activities, predators are taking advantage.
“They are talking to people they don’t know, they’re communicating with individuals where they don’t necessarily have a relationship with them and it’s a perfect scenario for an offender to groom a child into more of an online-relationship,” Sauk said. “Kids are pretty savvy, technologically, but they are very vulnerable when it comes to just their interpersonal connections. They may communicate with somebody for a minute or two and consider them to be a friend.”
Police are encouraging parents to check the parental controls on devices and limit camera access when possible.
“If we’re moving around our houses and anybody asks to see a part of your home or your house or your room, they could be trying to identify where you’re located,” said Sergeant Matthew Pascarella with the Gates Police Department
It’s also important for parents to know predators can be on any device and on any site.
“The most misleading thing is that kids think when they’re on a child-themed game or site, that only children are only accessing that site. But in reality, sometimes predators are posing as children,” Sergant Pascarella said. “It’s very simply to sign up and put whatever birthdate you want.”
Sergant Pascarella says you should look at the parental controls on any device your kids use and if you want to take it a step further, sometimes internet provider’s can do things to limit access online.
Experts encourage parents to have conversations with their children regarding online safety.
“Often times kids will be very embarrassed by it, very anxious about it, often times threatened with exposure if they are approached online,” Sauk said. “So parent’s need to give the message to their kids, if anything happens, you come and talk to us about it.”
Sauk says having conversations with your kids is the best approach.
“Don’t unplug the devices, throw them away and expect kids are still not going to have access because they will. The better way to approach it is talk to them about the privacy settings on their devices and platforms and what to do when they’re approached,” Sauk said.
News 8 doesn’t have a break down of online enticement numbers in the greater Rochester area, but Sauk says no city is left untouched and kids in both rural and urban areas can be victims.
There are a number of of free resources for families to access on missingkids.org, some of which will help parents learn how to have conversations about online safety with their young ones.