MARQUETTE COUNTY, Mich. (WLUC) – According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, online child exploitation cases have increased 106% since the pandemic began. The Upper Peninsula Human Trafficking Task Force says as children spend more time isolated and online, they are exposed to more danger now than ever.
“They’re at home, they’re in school, but their door is closed in one bedroom of the house,” said task force president Stephanie Krieger, “and their parents are in the other bedroom with the door closed because they’re working.”
Marquette County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Andy Griffin says even seemingly innocent websites and apps can open children up to predators.
“They might be playing Minecraft and communicating with other players, and that eventually leads to, ‘Hey, why don’t you talk to me on this other site?’” Griffin said. “It’s downright disturbing, disheartening, and terrifying to see what happens after they go off to another site like that.”
County Prosecutor Matt Wiese says it is crucial for parents to be proactive about protecting their children from potential traffickers. He says a good place to start is education.
“Have conversations with them about how images are permanent these days, they don’t disappear, they get swapped, traded, and passed around,” explained Wiese. “Just try to encourage them to be smart and safe.”
Wiese says another way parents can stay ahead of predators is to treat the internet like any physical place a child might go.
“When your children leave the home, you want to know where they’re at, you want to know where they’re with, what they’re doing” Wiese said. “It’s the same when they go on their devices.”
Griffin added, “Try to keep track of what your children are doing online, because they may find themselves essentially extorted before they know what to do and they’re too afraid to ask for help.”
Krieger says the first step to take in a trafficking situation is to call 911. The Michigan State Police also have a human trafficking tip line. That number is 1-888-874-8123.
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