Covid-19 Quarantine Rings Alarm About Child Sexploitation

Sextortion is a crime that happens online when an adult convinces a juvenile to share sexual pictures or perform sex acts on a webcam. To report it call (800) 225-5324 or go to #stopsextortion or tips.fbi.gov.

NASHVILLE, TN — Young teens are at greater risk of online sexual exploitation because they’re quarantined to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Child sexploitation became a greater threat when schools were closed and stay-at-home orders offered perpetrators more time to go online, according to federal and private cyber security authorities.

Children explore the Internet more during the summer and that free time started earlier this year, so the FBI has issued a warning to parents, educators, caregivers, and children about the dangers of online sexual exploitation.

Watch for signs of child abuse, the bureau says, listing: an increase in nightmares; withdrawn behavior; angry outbursts; anxiety; depression; not wanting to be left alone with an individual; and sexual knowledge.

One example is a 14-year-old girl who left a group home in Memphis after meeting a man

M.A. (Mo) Myers, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Memphis office, investigates child exploitation. Sextortion may increase with schools closed and more children online. Courtesy photo

online who “she thought was going to be a romantic interest,” says M.A. (Mo) Myers, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Memphis office. “She became a victim of human trafficking.”

Adolescents lack the sophistication or maturity to know the consequences, such as drug abuse, post traumatic stress disorder, and trauma from that lifestyle, Myers says.

Matt Foster, assistant special agent in charge here, says Brian K. Hendrix, 46 formerly of Mt. Juliet, is serving a 21-year prison term. Prosecuted in Virginia and convicted April 8, 2016 of child pornography, Hendrix’s case involved more than 300 minor victims, prosecutors reported. Posing as young teens, Hendrix and co-conspirators created false profiles on social networking sites to lure children to websites they controlled. Perpetrators showed previous victims engaged in explicit conduct; making new victims think they were chatting with a minor. New victims were coerced and enticed to show themselves on their own web cameras. Those images were automatically recorded. Conspirators earned points based on their contribution to the success of website objectives, which allowed them to view sexploitation videos. Such videos were found on Hendrix’s computers.

To stop victimization, children must tell someone they trust, so those people must avoid re-victimizing the child, officials said. Prevention includes: talking with children about Internet safety; setting privacy and parental controls; and permitting Internet use in open areas, not in private bedrooms.

FBI agents were reluctant to name particular social media and game sites used by sex-predators — they change so fast, Foster says —  but Fortalice Solutions President Theresa Payton, a cyber security expert in Charlotte, NC, says “Smash or Pass” has been popular on Facebook and continues on different platforms. Users upload photos to see if others would want to sexually connect, or not. Her business has had clients in Tennessee. Dating apps also have pitfalls for adolescents.

Foster says the vast majority of attempted exploitations of children aren’t reported to police. He asks those who children tell, “Don’t re-victimize those who’ve made a mistake. The child needs to feel safe to come to an authority figure … somebody who’s going to give them a hug and help them. We will bring victim services to help.”

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Clint Confehr
About Clint Confehr 230 Articles
Clint Confehr — an American journalist since 1972 — first wrote for The Tennessee Tribune in 1999. His news writing and photography in South Central Tennessee and the Nashville Metropolitan Statistical Area began in the summer of 1980. Clint's covered news in several Southern states at newspapers, radio stations and one TV station. Married since 1982, he's a grandfather and is semi-retired from daily news work.