**The following post contains sensitive topics and language. This post is long but will cover information every parent needs to be aware of.**
Please do not interpret this as a scare tactic. These events are happening in your home, neighborhood and schools.
We would like to address changing behaviors and safety issues we are seeing with our children and their online activities.
It doesn’t matter if your child is a straight-A student, hangs out with great kids, participates in after school activities, religious activities or tells you all about their day. Every child is at risk of being a victim.
As a Detective with the Carbon County Sheriff's Office, I have been involved with Internet Crimes against Children (ICAC) since 2006, while working for the Sheriff’s Office and closely with the Utah Attorney General’s Office, F.B.I. and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. So much has changed in those years, and along with them, the online threats to our children are ever changing.
In the early 2000’s we were all worried about the adult predator talking to our children in a chat room and meeting up with them to engage in unspeakable acts and harm our children. While that is still a concern, it is far from being the only online threat to our children in our modern internet connected lives.
With the advent of platforms like Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Discord, Roblox, Telegram, and many more, access to children is easier than ever.
Children are being exposed to sexually graphic material at an increasingly young age. Material they are not mature enough to appropriately process which can have long term effects on their present and future relationships.
One disturbing trend is the age of the offender, the 40-year-old offender is no longer the only threat, children’s peers are quickly becoming the more common perpetrator for sexual assault, sexual exploitation, and especially sextortion.
So, when I refer to offenders, I’m speaking about the 40-year-old, and the teenager alike.
An innocent game like Roblox is frequently being used by offenders to meet victims and use their avatars to act out sexual fantasies, usually referred to as “RP” in the chat rooms.
Roleplay (“RP”) is characterized as sexual roleplay that has a strong erotic element. It may involve two or more people who act out roles to bring to life a sexual fantasy, which may be a form of foreplay and sexually arousing. Participants often believe it is a safe way to explore their sexual curiosities. It may take place via an internet forum, chatroom or videogame.
How seriously the play is taken depends on the participants, and the scenario may be anywhere from simple and makeshift to detailed and elaborate. The RP usually involves elements of dominance and submission including sexual bondage and erotic humiliation.
Not all RP games fit this description. Dungeons and Dragons has become popular with the Netflix show Stranger Things. These types of tabletop role playing games do not usually play into the sexual roleplay we are talking about here.
The increasing popularity of the “Furry” culture is becoming a popular genre for erotic RP. Platforms like Discord are filling up with “Furry” and similar rooms where sexually explicit cartoons or live images are shared and sexual RP takes place.
Discord was once seen as an app just for video games, however, it has quickly changed into a forum for just about anything you can think of, with little to no oversite on age restrictions in the servers and channels. Meaning, the moderators of the channels themselves are deciding what ages are permitted to access and view the content within the channels.
Snapchat has a feature called “for your eyes only”. Anything your child puts in this folder is encrypted and password protected. An involved parent needs to be checking their children’s Snapchat, including that folder as well.
Unfortunately, just trusting that your child is not involved in anything mentioned here isn’t enough anymore. Parents need to be hyper vigilant and check their children’s cell phone, tablet or laptop frequently and randomly.
One case we recently worked was of an early teen who was in a Discord chat who met an adult who lived in Mexico. The adult offered to come get the child if the child felt it was too long to wait until he was 18-years-old. The pair had exchanged sexually explicit pictures and engaged in some explicit RP chats. This case had the potential to end badly.
Another case involved an older teen who was found to be in possession of thousands of pornographic images, including hundreds of child pornography files. This trend started in his early teens with images of juveniles his age. As he got older, the pictures of the children got younger. He was exposed to material he was unable to properly process, and it led him down a very bad path that could have likely been avoided through proactive measures.
Another was of a girl under the age of 10 years old exposing herself at the request of several men throughout the world in a chatroom within an app maintained in Russia, a company who does not work with law enforcement. The videos of that girl will forever be on the internet in the hands of sexual predators.
Children are constantly exposed to cyber bullying and sexual content via social media, text and chat apps. The problems they are having at school follow them home now, there is no escape for them. It doesn’t matter if it is bullying, sexual harassment or even sexual exploitation.
Self-generated content sharing (sexting) has become an ever increasingly normal behavior for youth. This behavior can lead to sextortion scams where offenders obtain explicit content and then pressure the victims into sending money or additional explicit content to the offenders. Financial sextortion has become a significant danger for our youth, especially boys, and is often perpetrated by organized crime groups in Nigeria, the Ivory Coast or just their local classmate. These threats can cause shame, fear and confusion and have led some victims to suicidal behaviors.
Children who find themselves in these situations are often embarrassed and/or fear punishment and repercussions if they report it. Make sure your children know they can talk to you, their school resource officers, or their school counselor to ask for help.
You as a parent need to be taking a very active role in your children’s online life, as it is often a Jekyll and Hyde situation. The person they become when chatting on-line and with friends is usually completely different than how they speak to you.
The idea of being the cool parent and being their friend, rather than invading their privacy and knowing what is happening in their lives just does not work anymore. They have pressures and threats that never existed in our youth.
A 2020 survey reported that 40% of teens think it is normal for people their age to share nudes with each other. 1 in 3 kids that shared nudes did so with someone they did not know.
Please, sit down with your children, talk to them, become involved as a parent, set ground rules, and know what they are doing online. Our department strongly recommends parental apps on children’s cell phones.
There are so many resources online to help you talk to your children; resources with advice on how to help keep them safe. It’s all just a Google search away. You can also contact an ICAC trained affiliate at the Carbon County Sheriff's Office or Price City Police Department for further assistance or resources.
Please do your part to keep our children safe. If you are aware of an ongoing incident, please report it to local authorities. You can even submit a cybertip anonymously through the Nation Center for Missing and Exploited Children. These tips will be sent to local investigators. https://www.missingkids.org/gethelpnow/cybertipline