Discovering that your child is being sexually exploited through the internet is a highly traumatic experience for both parent and child. Your child may be panicking, frightened that they have done wrong and will be punished, so much so that it may be hard to get any information from them. Furthermore, the person doing the exploiting is far away in cyberspace, and you may have no idea who it is. The only information you may have is an email address, or a chat room nickname. You may have discovered about the problem because your child tells you, or because you read a sexually explicit email or conversation sent to your child from an adult. Now what will you do?
WHAT TO DO
1) Try not to panic or shout in front of your child. Your child is already traumatized, and at this time will need a sense of security. Your child is a minor and has been exploited by an adult, therefore they are not responsible for what has happened. Angry recriminations towards your child will only have a negative impact by making them refuse to speak to you further, and will make them feel worse than they already do.
2) Reassure your child that it is not their fault, that it is the adult who has done wrong to them. Show your child that you understand that an adult has taken advantage of them, and that everything will be OK. Explain that you will help them deal with it. Be there for them - they need you!
3) Contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children immediately and make a report about what has happened. You can phone their hotline toll-free in the USA at:
Or file a report through the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children Cybertipline You will receive assistance and guidance from experts at NCMEC about how to proceed.
4) Try to avoid deleting emails, chat messages or pictures that the adult has sent to your child. This is valuable evidence of who has done this, and police will need it to trace the exploiter. In your anger at what has happened you may be tempted to delete all the files, or even smash the computer. Try to control this impulse. In the interest of your child, you need you to keep the evidence, and angry displays by you will just distress your child more.
HOW TO AVOID THIS HAPPENING TO YOU
1) Remember, a child who has been sexually exploited will be confused, scared, distressed and probably won't want to talk with you about what has happened. That's why it is important BEFORE anything like this happens to reassure your child that you will not blame them for the actions of others, and that your child can and should tell you about anything that happens online that makes them feel uncomfortable, without fear of you getting angry and banning the internet. If you cannot create this supportive environment for your child online, you will likely be the last person to find out that they are involved in some way sexually with an adult exploiter.
2) Keep your computer in the family room and be sure the screen does NOT face the wall. Open access by other family members to your child's online activities is the surest and simplest method of avoiding any problems. Do NOT permit your child long periods of unsupervised time online, especially in chat rooms.
3) Avoid using the internet as a babysitter. You have a responsibility to your child to play an active role in their learning about the internet. Work as a team with your child online.
Look out for warning signs that sexual exploitation is happening: none of these signs alone prove that your child is being sexually exploited on the internet, but they are all well known indications, so watch out for them. Be suspicious if:
· Your child becomes very secretive around their use of the internet, as if they are hiding something from you, and aggressive when you come over to them to look at the computer.
· Your child wants to be alone online when chatting.
· Every time you approach your child at the computer you hear them "clicking" on their computer mouse. This might mean they are closing or hiding a window so that you can't see it.
· You find sexually explicit pictures on your computer hard drive with no explanation as to how they got there.
· Your child begins acting out inappropriate sexual behavior or use of explicit (especially crude) sexual language.
· You notice an increase in aggressive behavior by your child.
· Your child begins to suffer from depression, or starts crying for no apparent reason.
· Teachers report a sudden drop in your child's schoolwork quality.
· Your child begins to experience bed-wetting or nightmares.
Remember: many of these signs will be indications of other problems, not necessarily internet relating sexual exploitation, but if any of them are coupled with an extreme need for secrecy about online activities, be extra alert.
Finally, consider this: the internet is not just a window to the outside world: it is also a door through which adult predators can enter your child's life. Make sure you keep an eye on that door!
Englishman Colin Gabriel Hatcher, a Silicon Valley California
attorney and lifelong volunteer youth worker, is the innovative mastermind behind SafetyEd International With 21 years experience in education, 12 years experience as a Martial Arts Instructor (he holds 5 black belts), 11 years of computer experience, and over 7 years working in internet related safety, child protection and child advocacy, Colin is an
accomplished expert researcher and writer in the internet field, as well as being an expert in internet and cyberspace law.