We teach our children not to talk to strangers, not to get in a vehicle with a stranger, not to answer the door for strangers, however we invite strangers in our homes and into the lives of our children daily through the internet and social media. Children and adolescents are truly the most vulnerable and one of the largest populations using the web. Harvard Chan School of Public Health conducted a study, which identified that 49.8% of children under the age of 17 use YouTube. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry reports that 90% of teens ages 13-17 use social media.
There is no question that social media has given predators easier access to our children in chat rooms, through interactive video games, via friend requests or direct messages. This innocent exchange of information provides an opportunity for predators to gather data that is often used to harm, manipulate, coerce, and abuse. Social media has been used to sell dangerous drugs, for cyberbullying, and pornography designed for the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children. Abuses against children continues to be prevalent; January 2024, Operation Reclaim and Rebuild, which was the 10th California statewide anti-human trafficking operation, involving 95 different law enforcement agencies, resulted in 500 arrests. These arrests included 40 traffickers and 271 sex buyers, some who had the intent to purchase a child. In reference to those being victimized by trafficking, out of the 65 identified, 11 were under the age of 18, with the youngest being 14. The Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force released the 2023 Human Trafficking Victim Report which identified that in 2021 and 2022, 36% of human trafficking victims were minors. The atrocities that are taking place online have become so great that currently the Senate Judiciary Committee is actively working on identifying ways to hold social media companies accountable, which includes stricter policing for crimes against children.
Technology continues to advance and play an integral role in our everyday lives, acquiring access to anything continues to be made easier, smart phones seem to get smarter and we are moving into the world of artificial intelligence, which is why it is imperative that we educate and empower ourselves, because any child can be a victim and any adult can be a predator. The Global Center for Women and Justice at Vanguard University and the Orange County Department of Education are partnering to make a difference by holding the Ensure Justice Conference2024: “Keeping Our Children Safe Online”. This conference, held March 1st and 2nd, provides an opportunity to learn from experts current and effective ways to increase online safety and to protect children, which can prevent Human Trafficking. This conference is not just for parents, caregivers and educators, it is for everyone because keeping children safe is the responsibility of us all. To register for Ensure Justice, please click here Ensure Justice 2024 (touchnet.net) and join in ensuring that our children engage online in safe and healthy ways.
Written By: Kendra Tankersley-Davis, Vice President of Development and Community Relations and Adjunct Professor of Human Trafficking