TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) – U.S. Attorney Stephen McAllister is urging Kansans to not let the COVID-19 pandemic distract them from keeping kids safe on the internet.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted our lives in so many ways,” McAllister said. “We should not forget, however, that young people still face more online threats than ever.”
“In this new environment,” he continued, “I want to remind parents, educators, caregivers and children about the dangers of online sexual exploitation. I urge adults to watch for signs of such exploitation and abuse and to report to and engage federal and state law enforcement authorities when exploitation and abuse are suspected or discovered.”
McAllister said children sometimes are too testing online and become friends with people they do not actually know. He said predators take advantage of this and target kids, usually between the ages of 10 and 17, often through social media. He said kids across all demographics and genders can be targeted and exploited. He said sexual exploitation, even when there is never any physical contact, causes real harm and has a lasting impact. He said pictures and videos do not come off the internet and long term effects can be devastating.
According to McAllister, sexual exploitation takes many forms. He said sextortion happens when a predator entices a victim into providing sexually explicit pictures or videos, usually by pretending to be someone younger and different than their real identity and then threatens to share the pictures publicly if the victim does not obey the predator’s demands for increasingly explicit and degrading images and videos.
“In order for such victimization to stop, children need adult intervention and assistance,” McAllister said. “They have to come forward to someone they trust — a parent, teacher, friend, or caregiver—who can then cut off the communications and report the situation to us, which will permit law enforcement to go after the predator.”
McAllister said he is urging parents to review resources about child exploitation and other crimes related to COVID-19 here. He said if residents suspect or become aware of possible sexual exploitation of a child, to contact the FBI, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation or local law enforcement agencies. He said such exploitation is a serious crime with severe penalties.
“Federal law enforcement has taken an aggressive approach toward the investigation and prosecution of COVID-19 related crimes such as fraud, price-gouging and hoarding of essential medical supplies,” McAllister said. “But we stand ready to act just as aggressively against those who might seek to take advantage of this situation to exploit our children.”
The FBI office in Kansas City can be reached at 816-512-8200 and online reports can be made here.
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