While cyber-crime is a potential threat that anyone who uses the internet needs to be aware of, there are several types of crime that specifically target some of the most vulnerable members of our society: our children. In most online spaces, there is little distinction between children and adults, and this means that kids are easily exposed to the ugliest side of the internet. Worse yet, since younger children are generally more trusting or naïve, they are also much easier targets for those who would try to manipulate them, including online predators, cyberbullies, and identity thieves.
In order to keep our children safe while they are online though, we need to be aware of the scope of the problem and how cyber-criminals are targeting them.
Child Sexual Exploitation & Child Abduction
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) states that child sexual exploitation “involves child sexual abuse and/or other sexualized acts using children that involves an exchange of some kind.” Such acts are easily among the most heinous online crimes, and although they are not exclusively “online problems,” the relative anonymity of the internet makes it fairly easy for potential sexual predators to reach out to and communicate with children online.
There are several potential methods that they can use, such as social media platforms, Instant messaging apps, email, chatrooms, and online video games. After making contact, a predator will then “groom” their victims by cultivating a relationship over a period of time. After building a sense of trust and authority, the predator can then start to gradually break down a child’s resistance to sexual abuse.
Child sexual exploitation can take many forms: a predator could send sexually suggest text messages or photos, or they could pressure their victim into sending them such material as well. Furthermore, if a child does share a compromising picture, a predator will sometimes engage in “sextortion,” demanding more pictures or contact under threat of exposure or harm. Additionally, emerging technologies like livestreaming and Face Time allow for more immediate exposure to sexual abuse as well.
Alternatively, a predator could try to set up a face-to-face meeting with their victim, which can to further sexual abuse. According to a study published in the New England Journal of Public Policy, 89% of child predator cases that lead to face-to-face meetings result in some form of sex with their victims. Some victims who attend such face-to-face meetings are also given illegal drugs or alcohol, exposed to pornography, or photographed in sexual poses.
Identity fraud is one of the most common cyber-crimes, but it’s not seen as something that affects children. However, kids make for an easy target for cyber-criminals, as they are generally more trusting and less aware of the dangers that come with sharing personal information online. A recent report found that more than 1 million children were victims of identity theft or fraud in 2017, with two-thirds of those affected being age 7 or younger. This often occurs through someone stealing a Social Security card, but it can happen through online means such as phishing emails, hackers, or other data breaches.
Cyber Bullying & Cyber Stalking
Unlike online identity fraud, which is often carried out by strangers, cyber-bullying is typically done by people who know their victims in real life. For children, this will most commonly be someone that they know from school or some extracurricular activity that they attend. Why kids decide to cyberbully someone can vary: some do it out of jealousy or because they have low self-esteem. Others might see it as a way to stay popular within a certain peer group.
Regardless of the reasons behind the bullying, the results can be devastating: research has linked cyberbullying with a range of mental health issues, and in some cases it can devolve into false accusations, defamation, acts of violence, and even suicide. For some, the distance that comes with sending messages online can make it seem less “real” than face-to-face conversation, but the effects on the victims are very real.
How to Keep Children Safe
The sheer number of cyber-crimes that the specific target children can seem overwhelming, but there are a few steps you can take to help make their online experience a bit safer.
- Self-educate! The more you know about what your children may be exposed to online, the better you understand the risks and how they can be
- Talk to your kids about potential online risks and good internet
- Find out what apps, games, and tech that your child It is much easier to keep track of their online activities if you know where they are spending their time online.
- Set clear rules about times and places for device use (such as banning phones and tablets from bedrooms).
- If your child comes to you with a problem, don’t One reason that kids don’t tell their parents when they have a problem online is that they’re afraid they will lose their internet privileges.
- Invest in some high-quality online filtering software, such as the kind offered by Clean Internet!
It might not be possible to protect your children from every harmful thing they can find online, taking a few extra precautions can go a long way towards keeping them safe.