HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – A man from West Virginia traveled more than 580 miles to Alabama on multiple occasions to have sex with a minor.
He found her through Snapchat.
With what seems to be a rotating release of new apps, as well as new features for other apps, there are actions parents can take to keep their kids safe from online sexual predators.
The avenues a sexual predator can use to connect with children is unfortunately endless.
Regular conversations with kids about safety is a key part of preventing an online sexual attack.
Normalizing conversations about the potential for something dangerous to happen to kids when they use phones and computers can prevent cyber sexual attacks, said Chris Newlin, the executive director of the National Children’s Advocacy Center in Huntsville.
“Teenagers are curious,” Newlin said. “They have hormones flowing through their body and they may be interested in some things, but they are also somewhat naïve about these things. Adults can take advantage of teenagers. It happens in person. That can happen and it happens online.”
Since the NCAC opened in 1985, many agencies have adopted their style of advocacy nationwide, Newlin said.
Sexual abuse of children has dropped about 50 percent over the last 20 years, he said.
The NCAC provides a variety of resources on site so a sexually abused child isn’t traumatized a second time by the process.
“Because in that scenario we want to elicit information from a child, not make them scared to death where they won’t talk,” Newlin said. “We reduce their anxiety and increase the information they’re willing and able to share with us in providing all the services they need from the initial interview and medical exams to therapy to help them heal and all of this being provided at no cost to the child or family.”
There are several resources parents can utilize if they think someone is trying to hurt their child online including the FBI and the Children’s Advocacy Center.
“If something happens traumatic to a child, it’s not the end of the world,” Newlin said. “We have resources and skills and abilities to be able to help serve them. Our employees are driven, absolutely driven, to make sure kids are able to heal from trauma.”
The majority of child sexual assaults happen by someone who knows the child in person.
The NCAC offers these steps for normalizing family discussions:
“What words will you use to teach your kids about private parts? At what age will you start teaching this? Discussion points: Normal development, open communication
At what age do you think your child will be able to wash their own body and bathe alone as they get older? Why is this important? Discussion points: Privacy, modesty, safety, consent
What rules do you (or will you) have about having kids in your bed, or your kids sharing a bed with other kids? Discussion points: Privacy, safety, healthy boundaries, autonomic arousal
Do you give your kids a choice about hugging and kissing relatives? Discussion points: Control over their own body, choice, consent
What will you do if your child’s curiosity leads them to touch your private parts or someone else’s? Discussion points: Privacy, consent, role-modeling setting boundaries gently but firmly
How will you react when you see your child touching their own private parts? Discussion points: Normal sexual development, privacy, avoid associating pleasure with fear/guilt/shame
Will your physical signs of affection with your children change over time? How? Why? Discussion points: Puberty, consent, autonomic arousal, ensuring children feel loved
What ‘rules’ did you grow up with around privacy and nudity, and how did you learn about sexual development? How does this affect the way you want to parent? How do you plan to talk about these topics with your child? When will you begin? Discussion points: Privacy, modesty, healthy sexuality, communicating your family norms and values
How will you talk to your kids about staying safe online? Discussion points: Safety, your family values, empathy, consent
How will you talk about boundaries, safety and consent with family members and other adults who care for your kids? Discussion points: Safety, healthy boundaries, consent