Dramatic rise in online threats to children, new report indicates

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(NEW YORK) — New data from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children suggests inappropriate images and videos of children are spreading online, increasing the risk that children will be exposed to them as well.

The center said in a new report released Thursday that it received a record 29.3 million tips to its CyberTipline in 2021 that involved the potential sexual abuse of children — a 35% increase since 2020.

Reports of online enticement of children also increased nearly 17%, a disturbing trend the NCMEC defines as when “a child is being groomed to take sexually explicit images and/or ultimately meet face-to-face with someone for sexual purposes, or to engage in a sexual conversation online or, in some instances, to sell/trade the child’s sexual images.”

The rise in reports appears to coincide with a rise in children spending more time behind computer and phone screens. Researchers from the University of Calgary in Canada analyzed studies involving more than 89,000 kids globally and reported that more than 75% of children younger than 2 and 64% of children between 2 and 5 years of age had more screen time than pediatricians recommend.

According to the NCMEC, social media websites like Facebook and Instagram are aggressively tracking and removing suspected child sex abuse content on their platforms and reporting them to the center.

So, what can parents and caregivers do to protect kids online? Experts say:

  • Monitor the online activity of your children.
  • Find out which social media platforms children are using and know what they are looking at and posting online.
  • Know who your kids are communicating with online.
  • The NCMEC recommends filing a report if you become aware of suspected child sex abuse content online or if you or someone you know is a victim. To make a report, visit CyberTipline.org or call the NCMEC at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678).

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