What might appear like innocent communication could be online sexual exploitation.
Children of the Street, a B.C.-based non-profit agency, is urging parents and caregivers to check in with their children. It's all part of a campaign its running this week (March 7-13), which focuses on stopping the sexual exploitation of children and youth.
“Kids often consider strangers who they meet online to be ‘friends’ because they spend so much time together, and we’re seeing that these ‘stranger-friends’ are the people who kids and parents can miss as being red flags,” says Camila Jimenez, the organization's program manager.
On any given day, there are 750,000 individuals online who are actively targeting children for sexual purposes, according to the Global Partnership and Fund to End Violence Against Children.
“We know these conversations can be hard to have with your kids, but they help to protect kids from exploiters,” says Jimenez. "These conversations can also be eye-opening for families to realize that some behaviours of children and youth, which may not be perceived as being forms of sexual exploitation, actually are.”
Re-sharing of sexual images of a person under the age of 18 is sexual exploitation as they’re not able to consent.
“Talking with your kids will help parents and caregivers — and their children — to spot these behaviours early on.”
The Canadian Centre for Child Protection revealed an 88 per cent increase in reports of child online exploitation since the COVID-19 pandemic started; the Surrey RCMP, meanwhile, reported a 122 per cent increase in cases involving child sexual abuse images in the last three years.
How do I talk to my kids about online sexual exploitation?
Having these kind of conversations can be made easier with a few steps.
First, Jimenez says you should start talking to your children early so they don’t feel overwhelmed. It's also important to know the appropriate conversations to have at different ages. (You can find more information in this how-to guide on the Children of the Street website.)
Be a safe person, the organization encourages.
"Explain why having this conversation is important to you; that you want your child to know how they can keep themselves and others safe and that they can come to you if ever they think or feel that they aren't. Be approachable and authentic.
"This may feel like an uncomfortable topic to discuss with your child at first, but the more you're able to talk to your child about this, the more normalized these conversations can feel, and the greater chance that you will be the person they come to for help," says a write-up on the HaveTheTalk.ca website.
Check out the #HaveTheTalk 10-tip sheet for more information.