QUANTICO, Va. - Due to ongoing stay-at-home orders in effect across the country, more than 1.5 billion children increasingly rely on virtual platforms for educational purposes. While these virtual tools play a critical part in providing ongoing education to our nation’s children, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children warns that spending more time online can also leave children vulnerable to online sexual exploitation by sexual predators.

Sexual exploitation comes in many forms. Predators may make casual contact with children online, gain their trust, and introduce sexual conversation that increases in seriousness over time. The cultivation of these relationships can also lead to the exchange of illicit images and the potential for meeting the child in person.

Although NCIS has not witnessed an increase in the number of child abuse or child exploitation investigations initiated in recent months, this does not necessarily mean that abuse or exploitation is not occurring, as often a significant amount of time passes between when abuse begins until it is reported to the authorities.

Online enticement happens across all platforms, so be aware of the sites, games, and apps your children frequent. Ask them to show you how they use them. Please also use these helpful tips from the NCMEC to protect children online:

Set some ground rules. Discuss Internet safety with children of all ages. Establish clear guidelines like what types of sites they can visit, apps they can download, and when they can have access to electronics. Review and approve games and apps before they are downloaded. Consider “blackout” periods that require disconnection.

Research before you buy. It is important to learn about a device’s capabilities before you buy. Could it allow unknown people to communicate with your child? Could the device allow children to make unchecked purchases?

Go beyond safeguards. Make sure privacy settings are set to the strictest level possible for online gaming systems and electronic devices. Monitor your children’s use of the Internet and keep electronic devices in a common room of the house. Check your children’s profiles to see what they post online. Explain to your children that images posted online are permanent. Time, attention, and active conversation are the best tools to protect them.

Familiarize yourself with most common tactics used by predators to entice children so you can recognize and stop it:

Developing rapport through compliments, discussing shared interests or “liking” their online post, also known as grooming.

Engaging in sexual conversation/role-playing as a grooming method, rather than a goal.

Asking for sexually explicit images of themselves or mutually sharing images.

Sending or offering sexually explicit images of themselves.

Pretending to be younger.

Offering an incentive such as a gift card, alcohol, drugs, lodging, transportation or food.

Please also familiarize with the warning signs of a child experiencing online enticement:

Spending increased time online.

Getting upset when he or she is not allowed on their device.

Taking extra steps to conceal what they are doing online.

Receiving gifts from people you do not know.

Children who have been victimized may be hesitant to speak up due to embarrassment, which is why it is important to communicate regularly with your children. Make sure your children know that anyone who asks them to engage in sexually explicit activity online should be reported to a parent, guardian, or other trusted adult and law enforcement.

If you suspect a child may have been victimized by online enticement, please report it to NCIS using the NCIS Tips app or at www.ncis.navy.mil.

Connecticut Media Group