Child sexual exploitation cases have been surging online

In March, reports of suspected child sexual exploitation online were up 106 percent nationwide. That is pre-COVID. With children practically living virtually these days, it’s only getting worse. 

The Frederick County State’s Attorney’s Office hosted a press conference outlining updates from the county’s Cyber Crime Task Force, which launched last year. 

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The State’s Attorney’s Office has more than tripled the number of child sexual exploitation prosecutions since 2019. 

They’ve also been working on legislation to assist with investigations and beef up penalties and monitoring time for convicted offenders. 

State’s Attorney Charlie Smith said, “First- time offenders are far too often granted Probation Before Judgement (PBJ) by judges. Given the high recidivism rate among sex offenders and the severe trauma these young victims endure, we simply must do more to protect our children from predators.”

According to the Maryland Internet Crimes Against Children Taskforce, the state logged 3,248 cyber tips in 2019. So far, the number for 2020 stands at 5,422 and there are concerns it may actually be much higher since children are not seeing teachers, coaches and other adults they often confide in. 

Tips from the Taskforce Website:

1. Before you give your child a device, set clear guidelines in place for its use. Consider making a contract with your child.

2.  No internet-capable devices should be allowed in the bedroom.

3.The device should charge in the parent’s room and night.

4. Parents should have passwords to all accounts. This will allow parents to check the child’s phone for any potential dangers. For example, if there is a cyberbullying issue, it gives the child a reprieve from the bullying and the parents will be alerted to it.

5. Consider time limits. Younger children an hour, older children, two hours.  

6. Use parental monitoring and website blocking apps. Make your child aware that you are using these apps. This may prevent some poor browsing decisions.  

7. Research any apps your child wants to download or better yet, have them research it and report the results to you.  

8.  What is your reaction going to be, when your child comes to you, with something that made them uncomfortable, on line? If your knee jerk reaction, is to take the device away, they, probably, will not come to you with an online problem, in the future. You must decide what your response is going to be, before your child comes to you with a problem. Try to come up with a plan of action that you and your child can agree upon.

9. Remember, if someone sends your child an unsolicited or an unwanted communication, they are the victim.

10. Be an open resource for your child. They should feel that they can come to you with any problem, not just internet related.

11. Report any concerns to NCMEC