WASHINGTON -- Parents, teachers and youth leaders can take steps to protect children and young people from becoming victims of online predators and sex traffickers, specialists say.
Experts warn that the threat of children being exploited and trafficked is widespread. Even a decade ago, an estimated 293,000 American youth were at risk of becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation, according to a 2001 report by the University of Pennsylvania. An estimated 100,000 U.S. children are trafficked annually.
Cris Clapp Logan of Enough Is Enough -- an organization that works to protect children on the Internet -- said the sex industry's growing demand has created more online predators and more sexual trafficking perpetrators. Logan is the director of communications and congressional relations for the organization and suggested the following ways to keep children safe while they are on the Internet:
-- Parents need to be educated about the potential dangers.
-- Parents need to lay down clear Internet safety rules.
-- Children should only communicate online with people they know and trust, and with whom they have face-to-face relationships.
-- Parents should avoid feeling intimidated by the Internet and giving their children full rein in the computer world.
Logan also mentioned signs that parents, teachers and youth leaders can spot if a child is contacting a predator or is being exploited. Among the signs in a child are:
-- being secretive about online use.
-- being obsessive about time on the Internet.
-- expressing anger when restricted from the Internet.
-- downloading pornographic or sexual materials.
-- receiving emails, phone calls or mail from unfamiliar contacts.
Trafficking victims may be detected by the following signs, Logan said: 1) close monitoring by someone who is not a parent; 2) a shift in mental health; 3) poor physical health; 4) long work hours; 5) extended absences from school; 6) decline in grades; 7) changes in overall appearance, and 8) struggles interacting with peers.
On a March 15 webcast sponsored by the Family Research Council, two experts on sex trafficking recommended ways parents and others can keep children safe. This list is a combination of tips from Sarah Vardaman, senior director of Shared Hope International, and Robert Flores, former administrator of the Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention:
-- An open dialogue with children is important.
-- Parents, churches and organizations need to be proactive in technology, and families need to consult different organizations to find software that can help protect their children from online exposure to pornography.
-- Make sure local, sexually oriented businesses -- such as strip clubs and massage parlors -- have been proactively investigated by law enforcement and possess proper licenses.
-- Parents need to be knowledgeable about their children's friends and what they are doing.
A checklist from Enough Is Enough of ways to help monitor children's online safety can be accessed at http://www.internetsafety101.org/safety101.htm.