In an era where children are spending more time on the internet, federal criminal justice officials say it is crucial for parents, guardians, educators and trusted adults to know the risks and how to prevent exploitation of youngsters by child predators.
Acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of New York Antoinette T. Bacon and James P. Kennedy, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York, met with leaders of the FBI, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and the U.S. Marshals Service, along with Callahan Walsh from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, to warn the public of increased risks to children and teens from online sexual predators.
“Children are spending more time online, for school, for clubs, and for playdates,” she said. “Parents don’t know all the apps or how to use them, but sexual predators do. They know where the kids are and how to reach them.”
Bacon continued, “Just as parents taught kids to be safe at home by locking the doors at night, parents must learn how to keep kids safe online. Computers can be scary. The internet can be intimidating. But in this case, ignorance is not bliss. The Department of Justice is committed to keeping kids safe. We will continue to pursue online sexual predators, and with increased awareness on the part of parents and communities, we will stop even more.”
Kennedy said the borderless nature of the Internet has made such crimes, which transcend jurisdictional boundaries.
“Cases in our district frequently involve victims in the Northern District and vice versa. Working together we will use our prosecutorial resources to do all that we can to protect our kids, but we cannot do it alone,” said Kennedy. “All New Yorkers and all Americans have a duty to protect our children — both in the physical and online world.”
HSI Special Agent in Charge Kevin Kelly said HSI is committed to the Safety Pledge initiative, which demonstrates a whole of government commitment to protecting and safeguarding children online.
“It is a reminder that we must all dedicate ourselves to implement the critical measures at home and in our communities that are necessary to keep children safe from online predators,” Kelly said.
“Make no mistake about it, investigating and arresting online predators is a top priority for the FBI and our office is leading the charge locally in keeping our most vulnerable safe from the monsters who lurk behind their keyboards. These disturbing individuals are preying on innocent children online and our office is working with our partners to aggressively pursue justice for their victims,” said Thomas F. Relford, Special Agent in Charge, FBI, Albany Field Office.
NCMEC Child Advocate Callahan Walsh said at the NCMEC, they are dedicated to fighting child sexual abuse online wherever they find it and working to prevent the future victimization of children.
“With increased screen time experienced by both adults and children during the pandemic, the opportunities for exploiters to pray on our kids has only increased and we encourage parents to talk to their kids about being safe online,” said Walsh.
Lisa Fletcher, the Assistant U.S. Attorney who oversees the prosecutions of these cases in the Northern District of New York, said she has seen hundreds of cases in the district.
“Ensuring the safety of our children is the most important job any of us will ever have. We must all educate ourselves and talk to our children about the risks inherent in the open access the Internet provides,” said Fletcher. “Talk to your kids about what sites they are visiting, what apps they use, whom they are texting and messaging, what kinds of pictures they take of themselves, and what kinds of pictures other people send to them. Encourage them to share with you anything makes them uncomfortable, whether an image, a message, or a solicitation. Showing that you care will go a long way with a child, and that in turn will go a long way in keeping them safe.”
Prevention is key. There are resources available for parents, teachers and kids from kindergarten through high school.
NetSmartz has a number of websites with tool kits, games, videos for all ages, PowerPoints for educators, Tip Sheets and more. Go to NetSmartz.org Homeland Security Investigations and NCMEC just launched their SafetyPledge campaign, encouraging parents to pledge to talk with their children about this threat. Their website includes a tool kit packed with information. Go to SafetyPledge.org The FBI’s website, called Safe Online Surfing, has resources categorized from third to eighth grade for teachers and students. Go to SOS.FBI.gov