Have you ever searched the Florida Department of Law Enforcement website for sex offenders in your ZIP code?
If you haven’t, I suggest doing so, as that physical report is a good eye-opener to get you thinking about how vast the number of online predators out there.
If there are 20 in your neighborhood, think about how many are in your community, state and world? You can run the report here.
As we all know, we are in crisis mode in Florida, and predators follow a crisis. If you follow the trail of children that moved to e-learning; those that attack kids online are following them there too. Parents and educators need to be prepared for the possibility that online school will continue in the Fall in some markets/areas/ages. With kids even more immersed in the web, even more than before, which is hard to fathom but true, we all need to be hyper-alert for predators.
In Virginia last month, there was a massive crackdown on those looking to harm kids online.
In Georgia last week, 15 people were arrested for online child exploitation charges.
Throughout our state, there is so much bad behavior going on you don’t have to look far.
As parents, you need to be monitoring where kids go online and not just casually. Look at the search history every day. Also take it a step further for younger kids by using a kid-friendly search engine like kiddle.co. If just one person reading this didn’t know about this type of engine, we can call this column a win — no graphic visual content can be generated from that type of link.
Steps like these will go a long way to protecting our youth. Also, good ol’ fashioned communication is essential, remind your kids if anyone asks them to do anything, meet them, etc. — alert parents immediately. Also, if your kids play online games disable the chat function in those games as predators lurk in those chat rooms as this article out of Jacksonville dives into from a few weeks back.
While the dark web is where a lot of this type of activity happens; the normal web still got almost 17 million issues reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in 2019 according to their website. While social sites have programs that take care of screening content and full-time staff that do the same; they can’t catch everything.
A few years ago, some Hollywood heavyweights joined this fight and created an organization called THORN.
Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore saw a documentary on child sex trafficking and described the moment from that site as when “you learn something about the world that you can’t unknow.” You can learn more about their fight on the THORN website.
My wife also mentioned to me the importance of Erin’s Law in Illinois, which provides valuable education to young persons and the interesting fact that she learned about Erin Merryn (whom the law is named after), her child advocacy work, and her cats from Instagram and her many posts of her cat Carrot. You can get a sneak peek of Erin and her amazing cats Bailey (RIP) and Carrot:
Or follow them on Instagram The_Cat-Named_Carrot. I messaged Erin last night, she is awesome and you should check them out.
When people on the national stage (like Ashton and Demi) take notice or Erin in Illinois take action, or here in Florida, when people like Sen. Lauren Book stand up and fight, it reduces the likelihood of this happening to someone else.
I spoke with Book and her team this week; she shared with me a worrisome statistic: “One in five kids will be solicited online at some point.”
What’s more, she said that predators frequent the same apps and platforms as children do — and will often attempt to digitally contact as many as 500 children a day — making a point to emphasize how insidious and widespread this type of thing is.
As we closed our conversation, Book pointed out that it is up to the districts in our state to provide a safe learning platform for kids; it is the parents’ job to have an open dialogue with their kids at all times, particularly considering how socially isolated they may be during this time.
Book is a champion for child advocacy, both in her work as an elected official and with her nonprofit Lauren’s Kids.
Hear more from Book, as well as some additional online safety tips, from a recent chat with the Broward County Sherriff’s Office:
Keep your eyes open, report anything that looks suspicious to local authorities, the FBI, or any law enforcement agency and keep a very close eye on what your kids are doing online.
Thank you to Normie Geske for sharing information on this topic last week; it is an alarming subject matter to write about, but I believe we all must do our part to protect the youth in our state.
Stay safe out there.
Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies, host of the Biz & Tech podcast and writes for several organizations. He can be reached at email@example.com.