Porn And Predators: Activists Warn Of Internet Dangers For Kids During Coronavirus Crisis

“This is the perfect opportunity for predators to take advantage of children — of all ages,” Dr. Marci Hamilton

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As schools across the United States cancel classes for increasing periods of time, activists say that children might be exposed to a variety of dangers as they spend longer amounts of time on the computer.

Millions of Americans are living under stay-at-home or self-quarantine orders as governors announce tighter coronavirus restrictions. Fifty states have closed schools, according to Education Week, closures that affect at least 54.5 million students. Many of these schools require students to participate in remote teaching that sometimes requires online classes.

Activists warned the Daily Caller News Foundation that as children spend increasing amounts of time on the internet — whether for online classes or for recreational and gaming purposes — they may be exposed to dangers while their parents are busy working from home or unaware.

“Children are experiencing more free time during this pandemic than even a summer break,” said One Million Moms director Monica Cole. “Children are not hanging out at friends’ houses, movie theaters or malls, nor are they traveling, or attending camp, sports or music practices. More free time for children typically means more screen time, which translates to families being vulnerable during an unprecedented time.”

Because of this extended amount of free time, Dr. Marci Hamilton, CEO of CHILD USA, said that “parents need to be hyper vigilant of all children now.” CHILD USA is 501(c)(3) nonprofit academic think tank focused on preventing child abuse and neglect.

Hamilton said she encourages parents to create a schedule for online needs and to do their utmost to enforce it, adding that most children don’t usually have access to the internet during the school day.

“This is the perfect opportunity for predators to take advantage of children — of all ages,” she said.

Shared Hope International founder and president Linda Smith, whose organization is dedicated to ending sex-trafficking, told the DCNF that adults who are spending increased amounts of time at home present new dangers to children on the internet.

“Based upon historical trends of when kids are approached and groomed online by predators, we know that unsupervised time can result in unmonitored and harmful communications between children and adult strangers,” Smith said. “This risk is especially present during this historical time in which more adults are working from home than ever.”

She added: “We fear the harmful consequences of adults spending an increased amount of unsupervised time on the internet; predators who may otherwise refrain from exploitative and abusive conduct while at the office may now be inclined to use their extra hours of unsupervised time to identify, groom, and abuse children online.”

Smith said vulnerable communities, including children and youth, are most at risk of being targeted by offenders during this period.

“In fact, it’s safe to assume that sex traffickers will take advantage of this new reality in which many of us are distracted and consumed by our own worries, planning, and isolation,” she noted. “Resultantly, Shared Hope believes that, amidst the critical measures we are adopting to ensure the health and safety of ourselves and our communities, we must be most vigilant protectors of our youth.”

Not only does Shared Hope warn against the dangers of predators online, the organization also highlights the “new trends in porn companies offering free viewing of their content in select countries as a marketing strategy,” and says that porn searches skyrocket by 4,700% when children are out of school. (RELATED: Pornography Website Targets McDonald’s Workers, Offers Opportunity To Earn $100K By Participating In Porn)

The organization is working to counteract these dangers by getting its internet safety materials into “as many hands as possible”  to help caregivers keep children safe, Smith said.

“For this reason, we are making our resources and Internet Safety Video Series free to download: sharedhope.org/internetsafety. We know that the more people who know how to take action, the less traffickers are able to move in the shadows of the Internet.”

Hamilton said she encourages parents to have frank discussions with their children and let them know that “there are bad people who are intent on harming them online, so there can be no trust of new online ‘friendships.’”

“Parents should impress to their children to NEVER take off their clothes for anyone online,” the professor added. “This sounds simplistic but should be stated as this is what online predators want the most.”

Both Hamilton and Cole recommend the use of internet filters, particularly during this period of time. Hamilton said parents should forbid children from being on their computers in closed rooms.

“Screens need to be seen by parents and they need to be clear that if ANYTHING happens out of the ordinary online, their child should tell them immediately,” Hamilton said.

Cole also said she encourages parents to monitor their child’s phone usage, screen time and search history.

“This is always important, but even more so now, as this pandemic is changing so many areas of our lives on an entirely different level,” Cole said. “Hopefully, bringing awareness to parents will help protect children from the dangers of the internet by allowing usage, but with new guidelines and paying closer attention to the consumption.”

Hamilton said she worries most about children who lack stable family situations.

“They need the social safety net and it has been ripped away,” she said. ” The states need to step up for these children and cannot let the division of child services lack adequate funding or personal protective gear.”

She added: “It will take all of us — government and the safe adults in their lives. Perhaps most important is that the country needs to understand this is a moment of extreme risk for children even if they are less likely to die from COVID-19. We simply cannot focus our attention solely on adults.”

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