The United Nations children’s agency is warning that the COVID-19 pandemic has sparked an increase in activity for online child predators, now that classes have been cancelled and moved online and children are spending more time than ever on the internet.
“When we consider we have a third of the world’s population in lockdown and 1.5 million out of school and often out of direct supervisory or connection to caring adults, then we have more risk of young people experiencing the dark side of being online,” says Lisa Wolff, the director of policy and research at UNICEF Canada.
Hope Baker is a parent and also runs an online business teaching micro-entrepreneurs how to use social media as a way to promote their businesses. She says with the social distancing requirements, many people have turned to the internet to keep busy.
“Unfortunately, there are a lot of people with a lot of time on their hands right now,” she says. “Where before predators had to go to their jobs and work during the day, now they and their victims are home with lots of screen time.”
The Canadian Centre for Child Protection actively monitors online activity and takes an active role in combating and preventing child victimization.
“We certainly have witnessed increased chatter among the offending community tied to COVID-19 and opportunities to prey on children,” says Signy Arnason, the organization’s Associate Executive Director. “We’ve seen in forums and chatrooms in the dark web where offenders are regularly communicating with one another and sharing best practices. There’s a particular community called a ‘capper’ community that basically goes out, finds the platforms where they can be accessing kids and convincing them to get nude on screen and kids think it’s live meanwhile they’re recording it on their side and using it for their own purposes.”
Arnason says parents should be aware of any platform that kids are using but especially ones that include the ability to livestream – including apps like TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat.
Communicating with children plays an integral role in raising their awareness about online predatory activities. While the conversations can be awkward, parents insist they are necessary and should begin when the children are young.
“Talking to your kids from an early age not just about physical stranger danger but also about online danger is really important,” says Baker. “Don’t allow devices into bedrooms. Keep them in the open. Make sure you are talking to your kids about who they are talking to that way it is natural to keep the conversation going as they get older.”
Anna Galati is also a parent and agrees that communication is key.
“I have high school and elementary children,” she says. “From the beginning we’ve always been open with the kids – what sites not to be on, there are people who will try to manipulate you.”
The Canadian Centre for Child Protection operates Project Arachnid which works to disrupt the spread of sexual images or videos involving minors online. Anyone who wants to report an image or video can visit cybertip.ca.