April 25, 2020
U.S. Attorney Stephen McAllister and FBI Special Agent in Charge Timothy Langan are urging educators and parents to be alert as students who are out of school spend more time on the internet.
“Our young people today face more online threats than ever, and that was true before the schools closed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” McAllister said. “Now, children are likely spending even more time online each day, which gives predators more opportunities to exploit them. In this new environment, we want to remind parents, educators, caregivers, and children about the dangers of online sexual exploitation, urge the adults to watch for the signs of such exploitation and abuse, and to report to and engage federal and state law enforcement authorities when exploitation and abuse are suspected or discovered.”
McAllister said children sometimes can be too trusting online and befriend people they may not know. Predators take advantage of this and target children, often between the ages of 10 and 17, typically through social media. Children across all demographics and genders can be targeted and exploited. Sexual exploitation, even when there is never any physical contact, causes very real harm and has a lasting impact. Images and videos do not disappear from the Internet, and the long term effects can be devastating.
Online sexual exploitation can come in many forms. Sextortion occurs when a predator entices a victim into providing sexually explicit images or videos—usually by falsely pretending to be a teen, someone much younger and different than their real identity—and then threatens to share the images publicly if the victim fails to comply with the predator’s demands for increasingly explicit and degrading images and videos.
“In order for such victimization to stop, children typically need adult intervention and assistance,” McAllister said. “They have to come forward to someone they trust—a parent, teacher, friend, or caregiver—who can then cut off the communications and report the situation to us, which will permit law enforcement to go after the predator.”
McAllister and Langan urge parents to review the resources regarding child exploitation and other crimes related to COVID-19 at https://www.fbi.gov/coronavirus. If you suspect or become aware of possible sexual exploitation of a child, please contact the FBI or your local law enforcement agency and report it. Such exploitation is a serious federal crime carrying severe federal penalties.
“Federal law enforcement has taken an aggressive approach toward the investigation and prosecution of COVID-19 related crimes such as fraud, price-gouging and hoarding of essential medical supplies,” McAllister said. “But we stand ready to act just as aggressively against those who might seek to take advantage of this situation to exploit our children.”