Expert speaks out about reports of child abuse and exploitation on social media

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FAIRMONT, W.Va. – Social media platforms, notably Facebook, have been flooded with allegations of child trafficking and snatching reports.

Robert Peters, Senior Attorney for the Zero Abuse Project, said there are currently many myths about increasing rates of child trafficking but his goal is to dispel those myths.

“What we think of the stereotypical child kidnapping, but those haven’t increased for three decades,” Peters said. “Every decade, there’s one that comes out (and while it’s horrific), it’s been pretty constant. We’re not seeing an increase in stereotypical child kidnappings because of the COVID-19 pandemic or any other reasons. It remains pretty stable nationally at about 105-115 children per year. That’s obviously very serious, but what we also need to be aware of is that there are many other risks to children. They just don’t typically appear in the form of a stereotypical ‘child kidnapping’ with strangers, with assault-type things.”

Peters said, most often those who pose the most risk to a child is someone they know and love. He added that, due to the pandemic, abusers have more access to children because of the isolation imposed by states and cities.

It is important to protect children, Peters said, but the public has to be educated as to the regulations in place and the gaps that children are falling though so that they can help them.

“What I would say is vigilance is helpful, we certainly need to be vigilant to signs of child abuse but we also need to be educated about what those signs are,” Peters said. “And a lot of the reports simply aren’t correlated to any known indicia or indicators of abuse, so what I would say is get educated on the signs of abuse — physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse. And I would also say if we really want to disrupt the abuse that we do know is happening to children in the form of increasing online sexual exploitation in the form of child abuse that’s perpetrated, again, by those that are typically that the child knows then we need to do two things.”

Peters continued.

“We need to be talking to our kids about digital safety, about online safety. There are a variety of resources that can help you do that and we need to talk to our kids about body safety. A lot of people get squeamish about using anatomically correct terms with kids, but we know that helps prevent abuse because when children are more educated it enables them to accurately describe what’s occurring. It enables early detection and enables prevention and I mentioned resources. A couple of things I would recommend — if you go to shieldwv.com, we have videos that we produced during the COVID-19 pandemic that show how to talk to youth from different ages from elementary all the way to high school on issues about body safety. And we also show importantly, how to talk to kids about issues of online safety in a way that’s not aggressive or things like that, but it’s a way that really empowers children to make healthy choices in person and online. I would recommend those videos and if you want to learn more about child abduction actually looks like you can go to zeroabuseproject.org/video-library.”

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