The Coronavirus, or Covid 19, is not only resulting in an increase in child abuse and neglect, there are also fears that the pandemic will also result in a future increase in child pornography and child sex trafficking.
“We are seeing a big uptick in the amount of predators online, you know, talking to children,” according to the US Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Ariana, Fajardo-Orshan. “Parents are preoccupied, getting their work done, and kids are being left off to kind of fend for themselves and this is a predator’s dream to have these kids home on the computer all day.”
A spokesperson for the FBI recently wrote that “Offenders may make casual contact with children online, gain their trust, and introduce sexual conversation that increases in egregiousness over time.”
The number of children being contacted by sexual predators online is disturbing and astounding at the same time. Approximately one out of every seven children is sexually contacted, or solicited, by a predator while online. Furthermore, many of these children are seriously pursued online by these predators, singling out these children in an attempt to lure them in.
The danger lies in that when Self Containment and Social Distancing end after the worst of Covid 19, many of these children who have been abused and neglected at home during the time of isolation will run away, and seek out the predators that formed relationships online with them.
What some might find shocking is that between 100,000–300,000 children are exploited commercially in the United States for purposes of sex each year. Many of these children are shipped, or trafficked, across international borders each year. For these thousands of children, a life of horror and danger is forced upon them as they serve as prostitutes for local and global criminal organizations. Thousands of other children are sold into slavery by those who profess to love them the most; their family members. How large is the problem? Disturbingly, human trafficking generates more than 32 billion a year, which is third only to drug and arms trafficking. Roughly 2 million children are exploited in this manner across the globe.
Indeed, as more people are spending time indoors and at home during this time of self containment, pornography online sites have seen an increase in viewership. In the United States, which has a quickly growing number of reported coronavirus cases, has seen a 6.4% increase in site activity as of March 17. New York, one of the leading states of Covid 19 cases, has seen a 24% increase coronavirus-related porn searches, while Washington D.C., which also has seen large numbers of Covid 19 cases, has seen a 33% increase.
In Florida, a 27 year old male is facing charges of child pornography. Law enforcement found more than 100 images and videos of images and videos depicting children ranging in age from infants to around 13-years-old. A 53 year old male from Maryland has been charged with 10 counts of possession of child pornography as well as solicitation of a minor under 15. A 45 year old male living in Texas has been caught with child pornography on his computer.
“Children in crisis are targets for sex traffickers,” said Irene Clements, the Executive Director of the National Foster Parent Association. “Children/youth in the foster care system become easy targets, particularly when they are under extra stress and experiencing fear and vulnerability. COVID-19 has created chaos within the foster care systems across this country and those being served are most affected. Houston, we have a problem!”
“We are mindful that with different circumstances young people will be spending more time online potentially in chat forums — an area we know pedophiles operate in,” said Stephen Rodhouse, of the National Crime Agency.
Children who fall victim to the sexual exploitation of human trafficking tend to come from several different backgrounds. They may be runaways and victims of prior sexual abuse; homeless; children looking to belong and hoping to find acceptance; children from foster care, looking for someone to give them the love they never got while with their birth family; or children who have been victimized in other fashions and are seeking love and a sense of belonging. Indeed, human traffickers may target large facilities, such as large foster care group homes during the Coronavirus, where they are able to locate a greater number of children who are defenseless, vulnerable, and hurting, thus easier targets to victimize, exploit, and lure them after the worst of Covid 19 is over.
“Letting your kids spend unmonitored time on the internet is allowing them to be influenced and preyed upon by people who you would never otherwise allow near your family,” said Rhonda Sciortino, an author and child advocate. “Predators can reach your kids through social media, gaming, and videos. Predators can also reach your kids through apps that you may know nothing about.”
The internet, and social media, has made it easier for traffickers to exploit these children, as the audience can be easily reached through social network sites, websites, cell phones, and other online venues. During this time of Self Containment amidst the Coronavirus pandemic, it is even easier for child predators to find their next victim.
Dr. John DeGarmo is an international parenting and foster care expert, and a TEDx Talk presenter. He has been a foster parent for 17 years, and he and his wife have had over 60 children come through their home. Dr. John is an international consultant to legal firms and foster care agencies, as well as an empowerment and transformational speaker and trainer on many topics about the foster care system. He is the author of several books, including The Foster Parenting Manual, and writes for several publications. Dr. John has appeared on CNN HLN, Good Morning, America, ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, and elsewhere, He and his wife have received many awards, including the Good Morning America Ultimate Hero Award. He can be contacted at drjohndegarmo@gmail, through his Facebook page, Dr. John DeGarmo, or at The Foster Care Institute.