Child predators are ruthless. In the midst of a global pandemic, these individuals are taking advantage of the massive shift in children’s routines over the past few months. As quarantine orders continue, predators are seizing the opportunity to target vulnerable children online.
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) has experienced a 93.33% year-over-year increase in online enticement reports as well as a 90.46% year-over-year increase in CyberTipline reports for the first half of 2020. With stay-at-home orders resulting in children spending more time online, child predators are making their move to entice their targets to produce sexually explicit materials. These materials can have lifelong consequences for the children who are exploited, as the inappropriate content is often shared. Predators may threaten to distribute the explicit content unless the child provides more—known as sextortion—putting victims in even greater danger online.
In New Jersey, local authorities have made seven arrests after launching Operation Safe Quarantine to take down individuals who possess and distribute explicit content involving minors. In Los Angeles, the LAPD’s Internet Crimes Against Children unit makes about three arrests each month stemming from tips they receive from NCMEC. And in Northern Virginia, Operation COVID Crackdown resulted in 30 arrests—all men who went online to initiate explicit conversations and solicit minors.
Several of our district partners have used Gaggle to take down child predators. At Wichita Falls Independent School District in Texas, Superintendent Michael Kuhrt uncovered an inappropriate relationship between a student and a 30-something-year-old adult thanks to Gaggle. "We found that, we were able to intervene, and were able to get that child some help and report this individual who was preying on one of our students," said Kuhrt.
In New York’s East Irondequoit Central School District, Gaggle helped keep an 11-year-old student out of harm’s way when a child predator attempted to send her pornographic content. Gaggle intercepted the file in question to ensure that the sixth-grade student wouldn’t be exposed to the content, and the district assisted law enforcement in a months-long investigation that resulted in the arrest and conviction of a 36-year-old male in Michigan. “The file was sent to our local police department so they could do their investigation,” said Executive Director of Technology Christine Osadciw. “That was their proof. If we didn’t have that video, I don’t know if the predator would have been caught.”
While we don’t know what the rest of the year will bring in terms of social distancing or stay-at-home orders, we do know that it’s imperative to ensure the digital environment is a safe space. With many schools continuing distance learning in the fall, educators across the country should consider steps they can take to protect students from predators as they engage in their education online.