WASHINGTON, Mo. — COVID-19 has had an impact on seemingly every aspect of our lives, but a spokesperson for the Child Advocacy Center of Northeast Missouri says it's seen an increase in kids being solicited and exploited on social media since the start of the pandemic.
“When COVID hit you handed kids devices and that’s how they did everything,” said Child Advocacy Center Forensic Services Program Director Amy Robins.
Unfortunately, Robins says that has created some unintended consequences that are putting kids at risk.
“Exploitation of children through social media, and just the internet in general, has been a huge increase that we’ve seen in the crimes that have been committed against the children that we serve,” Robins said.
More than 22% of the 517 teens interviewed at center in 2021 were solicited for sex or exploited for nude images.
“This is something you hear about, but you don’t go through it,” said one mother.
The mother, from Washington, Missouri, asked not be identified She reached out to 5 On Your Side after her teen was solicited by someone on social media.
“They started talking to him and coaxing him to send pictures, which he eventually did,” the mother said. “The next thing you know, the person is telling them 'Give me $500 or I’m going to expose you to everybody you know.'”
She quickly reported the situation to the Washington Police Department, which is now investigating the case.
“They asked what the username was and said they would see what they could do about tracking down the URL,” the mother said.
“They typically are international,” said Robins. “Most of the cases that we’ve seen frequently have originated out of Africa.”
The good news is that there are several resources available aimed at protecting your kids.
“We have really great agencies,” Robins said. “Federal Departments like the Cyber Crime Unit, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has a tip line. That’s all they do all day every day is sort through this and make sure that those perpetrators are being held accountable.”
“I really want them to track this person down,” said the mother. “I want them to pay for what they did, and I don’t want anybody else’s kids going through this stuff.”
If you believe your child has been exploited or the victim of a solicitation scheme you’re being encouraged to file a report with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
You can also contact the Child Advocacy Center at 636-332-0545.