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How to protect children from online sexual exploitation

On May 17th, St. Irenaeus’ Health Ministry, Bridge of Light: Human Trafficking to Human Triumph Ministry, and Youth Ministry sponsored the workshop, “Taking Action to Prevent Online Child Sexual Exploitation.” This workshop was presented by CBIS (Christian Brothers Investment Services). St. Irenaeus Pastor, Fr. Binh Nguyen, began with a prayer.

Health Ministry Facilitator, Monica Kovach, introduced Julie Tanner, CBIS Managing Director, and Chele Mitchell, CBIS Managing Director, Investor and Consultant Relations, the principal speakers. How can an investment services company protect kids from online sexual exploitation? CBIS contacts tech and telecom companies to ask about their efforts to protect children from exploitation and discuss how to strengthen their efforts. CBIS represents investors in “content oversight talks” with tech and telecom companies. CBIS also informs consumers about how their marketplace choices can reflect Catholic values.

During the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, the number of youth with an online presence increased substantially as did the number of reports of child sexual exploitation (up 28%) and Amber Alerts. Over 400,000 children go missing each year in the U.S. These kids are extremely vulnerable to human trafficking. Verizon partnered with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to create the music video, “Run Away Train,” which has helped to recover missing children across the country and increased the number of leads in missing children cases.

Online sexual exploitation of children has three general characteristics. One is child sex abuse material (CSAM) or child porn. The image may be a digital animated creation showing children in sexual acts or poses. Another is the grooming or online enticement of children for sexual acts. A third is sextortion, using a child’s sexual photos as extortion for sexual exploitation, or “revenge porn.”

Child sex tourism or trade is widespread. It is estimated that 750,000 people are looking for kids to exploit sexually. One in five kids online are sexually solicited. According to Interpol, in 1995 there were 4000 child sexual images online, while in 2019, there were 69.1 million such images or videos.
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Areas of risk for children online include chatrooms, live chat, live streaming, using social media, photo sharing and online dating. Also, interactive online games, gaming, cloud storage and photo storage are areas of concern.

Pope Francis has sought to raise awareness of the online risks to children by promoting digital child dignity. We can mobilize faith leaders to inform their congregations about how to protect children from online predators.

Other tips on how to help protect children include:

“Take Action Resource Links” that assist in parenting in the digital world are:
The National Human Trafficking Hotline – 1-888-3737-88; www.Netsmartz.org; www.ecpatusa.org; www.CyberSafetyCop.com; and www.screenready.com (a parental control guide for parents and caregivers).

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