The internet – it is a wonderful tool for research, education, communication, and entertainment. People use it in the business world, the educational world and for social purposes. From it came an onslaught of social media, a way to stay connected with friends, family and business associates around the globe.

All of these are good things – but as with all things, there are two sides to a coin.

The internet has been used to perpetuate the evil of sexual exploitation on a global scale. Where law enforcement used to be able to drive through certain parts of town and easily identify the players involved in the sex trade, today it is virtually impossible to learn who they all are and where they are located.

Instead of XXX, the internet has made the sex trade the AAA: accessible, affordable, and anonymous.

Just a few years ago, if an individual wanted to view pornography, they had to find a physical location that sold it and go there. They had to use their credit card or cash to purchase  it, then hope no one recognized them in the process.

Today, anyone who has access to the internet has access to pornography.

It’s easily accessible. You don’t have to purchase it, leaving a paper trail. You can find plenty of it on the internet for free. You can locate it on Youtube, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest, just to name a few. Because you look at it online, you can remain anonymous.

What many teenagers don’t know is the AAA can turn innocent teens into criminals. Without knowing it, they can commit multiple felonies with nothing but a friend and a cell phone.

A growing trend among teenagers today is the trading of nude photographs via text and video.

They assume this communication is just between them and their friends so what’s the harm, right? Wrong! Typically, this scenario plays out this way:

A boyfriend convinces his girlfriend to take a picture of herself nude and send it to him. She loves him, so she complies. If she is a minortaking a picture of herself nude is the manufacturing of child pornography, which is a felony. She then has the photo on her phone, which is the possession of child pornography, also a felony. When she sends it to said boyfriend, she has distributed child pornography, which is, you guessed it, a felony.

Now before you have a panic attack, most law enforcement officers will not charge her with those crimes. They will recognize that she was young and likely pressured into taking and sending those pictures. If her boyfriend has those pictures on his phone, he, too, is guilty of possession of child pornography. If he sends them out, he is guilty of distributing child pornography.

Where it gets really sticky is if they have a fight or break up and he chooses to share those photos, say on social media. Then he has distributed it and it can go viral in seconds. The photo she intended for no one to see except her boyfriend could then become part of international child pornography distribution. Once on the internet, it’s always on the internet. A similar scenario happened with one of the survivors I’ve encountered.

Parents also need to be aware of the way Apps are used in the sex trade. Many teens get a false sense of security with apps like Snapchat, because after all, “it disappears in seven seconds.”

NOTHING on the internet disappears.

It’s somewhere in cyberspace. When you take a photo, that photo is sent to a server. Even if you delete the photo from your phone, it is still on a server somewhere. Servers have been known to be hacked and information has been stolen from them.

So what does all of this have to do with the sex trafficking and sexual exploitation? There are multiple articles out today that support the direct link between pornography and the sex trafficking.  One quick Google search will provide you with a long list of supporting articles, including this one from the Richmond Justice Initiative.

Not only does the internet and technology connect sex trafficking to pornography, but men, women, and children are recruited into the sex trade through the use of the internet and social media sites.

When Sergeant Torrey Kennedy of the Dekalb County Police Department was asked about the role the internet and social media sites play in the trade, he said,

While is the number one site people know about for sex trafficking, traffickers are also using dating sites, including those you think may be safe. Some of the biggest social media sites used today are Instagram, Kik, Twitter, Plenty of Fish, and Tag.”

When Cobb County CSEC Detective, Tom Bastis, was asked about the difficulties he faces with specific social media apps in the fight against sex trafficking, he had this to say about Kik,

Kik is based in Canada, so we can’t get the content from them to use in cases. We can, at best, get the user’s name. This is a big issue in the prosecution of these cases. Traffickers know our limitations.”

So what is a parent to do? How to you respond? Your child not only has access to the internet through computers, phones and gaming systems, but many school systems require students to obtain online access for classwork and homework assignments.

No child is 100% safe from viewing pornography or being lured into the sex trade; however, there are some steps you can take as parents to make it more difficult for those things to happen.

Here are nine steps to get you started in the fight to keep your child safe:

  • Have a clear understanding of how to operate any electronic devices your children have access to, not just those they hold in their possession; this includes the software, apps, and games that go with those electronics. If you have to take a class to educate yourself, then do so. If you need to solicit the assistance of someone else to learn how to operate the various programs, find a young adult to teach you.
  • Know the sites, apps, and accounts your child has set up on electronic devices, including their passwords. Make it clear from the beginning that this is a requirement in order to have access to electronics. Sign a contract with them if you feel this will help. Let them know there will be random checks on their devices and if something is inaccessible or password protected, the device will be confiscated until further notice.

There are some who may protest and say this is an invasion of privacy. It is called being a parent. You wouldn’t throw the keys to a car into your child’s hands when they reach a certain age and wish them good luck. You would review the laws of the land, talk about how the vehicle operates, discuss the dangers involved in operating a vehicle, train them by modeling and then by riding beside them as they learn to master the use of a vehicle. If at any time during this process, or even after they start driving independently, you see them endangering themselves or others, you would revoke the privilege. The internet and social media can be just as destructive.

  • Remind your child that electronic devices are a privilege and not a necessity. Explain the dangers of them, just as you would a car, and speak about the responsibility involved in operating them.
  • Frequently check all electronic devices, including call histories, social media sites, passwords, emails, and search engine histories. If any of these histories have been wiped clean so you can’t track how the device has been used, that should be a red flag. This can be covered in a contract you establish with your child prior to their use of electronic devices.
  • Keep all electronic devices in common spaces in the home, this includes cell phones. Nothing goes behind closed doors. That is just inviting danger.
  • Establish electronic curfews in your home. If necessary, make them password protected to lose access at a certain time of day or night. This includes televisions.
  • Make your presence known on your child’s social media, without embarrassing them. This can be done simply by “liking” a photo or comment. This alerts any potential trafficker that you are aware of what is going on in your child’s life and who is present in it.
  •  Monitor your own use of electric devices and make sure you are modeling healthy use of electronics for your children. Ouch! I did just go there. Your children will watch what you do more than they’ll listen to what you say.
  • Invest in your children every chance you get. This doesn’t mean provide shallow complements, but rather spend time with them. Get to know them, what they like and what they don’t like. Look for the positive traits you see in them and call them forth. I call it mining for the gold inside of them. By doing this, you fill their love tank and build their self esteem in a healthy way. When you do this, you make them less vulnerable to someone else trying to do so for manipulative reasons.

Parenting is work. If you have healthy, well adjusted children who grow up to be well adjusted adults, it’s not by accident. If your children are safe and secure from those who practice sexual exploitation, it will be because you’ve been intentional. You wouldn’t ever leave your front door wide open for perfect strangers to enter your home and have their way with your children. Make sure you are just as diligent with who you allow access to them through the internet and social media.