Children around the world are victims of online sexual exploitation, and over 200 million children worldwide are victims of sexual abuse. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, online use for children has increased dramatically. The FBI is currently warning of the increased risk of child exploitation online.
People like Justin Payne have taken child protection into their own hands. Payne is a self-described pedophile vigilante who is also known as a creeper. He exposes people trying to seduce children online. He creates a false profile of a 12-year-old child named Christopher, and when asked by an adult, agrees to meet the predator in a public place. After confronting her with her intentions to meet a minor child for sexual purposes, he publishes a video of the confrontation online, exposing and publicly shaming her.
Payne agreed to share his story with the Trauma and Mental Health Report (TMHR):
“I made a false profile one night to see what would happen and the person showed up right outside the door of the apartment I lived in. I didn’t know how that would affect me until I actually went to talk to him. It was intense. Then I did it again. I met another person in a bar that lived across the street. He had an eight or nine year old at home and a woman, he showed up in a family SUV. Again, just like the first time, if you don’t know what triggered you until you keep doing it. But at some point you just get calloused; hardened on it. I just feel like it’s kind of a duty at this point. “
Parents who are concerned about their children’s safety have access to online resources. Bark is an online service that uses artificial intelligence and algorithms to monitor a child’s email, text messages, and social media. It reports suspicious activities such as cyber bullying, potential drug use, online predators, depression, acts of violence and suicide. With this information, Bark alerts the nursing staff and provides them with an action plan to protect their child. During quarantine, they saw an increase in online predators and their referrals to law enforcement increased by 23%.
Bark’s Chief Parent Officer, Titania Jordan, spoke to the TMHR about why this happened:
“We attribute this leap to the fact that children have been at home and on their devices for more than 8 hours a day since protection began in mid-March. The reality is that children can be abused online even when they are in the next room. Children can be exposed to graphic sexual content, overt manipulation, and sometimes even violent threats from people who try to intimidate them into doing what they say. “
A child’s knowledge of sexuality and sexual abuse can vary depending on age. When confronted with online predators, children can look forward to attention or a feeling of confirmation of their beauty. If you are lonely, you may also want to feel loved. However, children may experience shame, embarrassment, or feelings of guilt during care. The emotions they experience can depend on their age, maturity, mental health and personal dynamics.
Jordan advises parents and carers:
“When your child comes to you with a problem, you can decide how you want to respond. You can freak out … you can punish them. These actions signal “Okay, I’ll never talk to my parents about it again.” Or you can stay calm, thank you for trusting you, and navigate the situation together by not punishing them but supporting them. It is your job as parents to protect them not only in real life with seat belts and helmets, but also online with surveillance solutions. “
-Eleni Neofytou, contributing writer
Feature: Tech. Sgt.Benjamin Wilson in the U.S. Air Force photo, public domain
First: Werner Moser at Pixabay, Creative Commons
Second: Gaelle Marcel at Unsplash, Creative Commons