Expert: How to protect kids against online child predators

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

TRI-CITIES, TN (WJHL)- Experts say every day in America thousands of children are sexually solicited online by predators. In 2015, investigators across Tennessee received 1,500 reports of suspected exploitation.

But a small-town police department in Boone, North Carolina has made it a priority to catch online child predators. In the last year, they have arrested eight people on felony child sex crime charges. “They’re out there. They’re always fishing,” said Boone Police Chief Dana Crawford. “Our detectives created profiles through different social media sites. It doesn’t take long before you start getting nibbles.”

Experts say parents can take several steps to make sure their children are not preyed upon. “First thing they can do is take charge by having a discussion with kids about what sort of guidelines and what are the limits in their household,” said Denise Wallace, a family advocate and online safety expert with the Children’s Advocacy Center of Highlands Community Services in Bristol, Virginia. The center works with investigating agencies on child abuse cases, conducting forensics interviews in conjunction with law enforcement and offering court support and counseling.

Wallace said when it comes to online child predators, “Individuals are looking for kids that will take risks, who will chat with them, maybe don’t have a parent over their shoulder monitoring them; a child who is looking for attention who will take risks to meet them offline.”

Wallace said it is important for parents to establish an open line of communication with their child, letting them know the main focus is their safety. “Technology cannot take the place of a parent’s discussion or supervision. Talk about what it would look like for an online offender to try and gain your trust, how would they go about it.” She said it is also helpful for parents to know device capabilities before bringing them into the home. “[Look at] whether it has a webcam, whether or not that hand-held gaming device has access to the internet. So look at all those things before you bring it into the home and have the conservation before they’re on the device.”

Detective Matthew Price with the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office said it is also important to monitor a child’s online activity. “[Parents] need to know what they’re [kids are] doing, who they’re talking to, what they’re looking at, apps they’re using, websites they’re visiting.” Price said it’s important for parents to check in often with their kids. If you feel like someone is having inappropriate communication with your child online, Price said report it to police.

For more information on how to talk to your children about how to stay safe online,click here.

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