EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — The FBI is honoring the 25th anniversary of its Online Child Exploitation Program while combatting new challenges amid the pandemic.
Minerva Shelton, Supervisory Special Agent in Charge at the FBI El Paso Division, tells KTSM 9 News that more cases are being opened because children and teens are spending more time online than ever.
‘We’ve seen an increase in cases,” said Shelton. “It just seems like it’s nonstop.”
Shelton noted that kids are spending the majority of their time online, whether it be to attend virtual school, socialize with their peers or escape from stressors.
Perpetrators are using gaming and hook-up apps to solicit sexual content from kids and teens.
“We have cases we call ‘sextortion,’ where you have an individual who meets a younger girl and the younger girl might think they’re communicating with a 16-year-old, and the 16-year-old is just ‘you know, we’re being silly, trying to do silly things — how about you give me a picture?’” Shelton explained.
Shelton says adolescent girls who comply with these requests often feel ashamed or embarrassed after, which the perpetrator exploits.
“What happens is the person pretending to be the 16-year-old says if the younger girl doesn’t send more photos, then I’m going to post these on Facebook and send to your family and friends,” said Shelton.
Once an image or video is online, says Shelton, it’s out there forever.
The FBI wants parents and their children to beware of the threats posed online and suggests encouraging regular communication and education on the topic.
Shelton noted that teens long for a sense of independence and the FBI has tips on how teens can protect themselves and their friends online:
- Be selective about what you share online. If your social media accounts are open to everyone, a predator may be able to figure out a lot of information about you.
- Be wary of anyone you encounter for the first time online. Block or ignore messages from strangers.
- Be aware that people can pretend to be anything or anyone online. Videos and photos are not proof that a person is who they claim to be. Images can be altered or stolen.
- Be suspicious if you meet someone on one game or app and they ask you to start talking to them on a different platform.
- Be in the know. Any content you create online — whether it is a text message, photo or video — can be made public. And once you send something, you don’t have any control over where it goes next.
- Be willing to ask for help. If you are getting messages or requests online that don’t seem right, block the sender, report the behavior to the site administrator or go to an adult. If you have been victimized online, tell someone.
Parents can learn about sextortion prevention here.