Child exploitation case tips increase by 67% this year, says Maryland State Police
MARYLAND – Maryland State Police say there’s been an almost 67 percent increase in tips regarding online child sex exploitation cases this year compared to last year.
Police attribute the spike to the fact that both children and adults are spending more time online due to virtual learning and social distancing.
According to the Maryland State Police Computer Crimes Unit, cyber tips concerning the potential sexual exploitation of children have increased considerably over the past year. Through December 7, state police have received 5,433 cyber tips. This compares to 3,248 such tips for all of 2019.
Prince George’s County has received the most cyber tips this year, with 1,036 being reported through November, compared to 525 over the same period in 2019. They are followed through the same period by Montgomery County with 862 (408 in 2019), Howard County with 727 (196 in 2019), Baltimore City with 712 (480 in 2019), Baltimore County with 668 (360) and Anne Arundel County with 344 (264 in 2019).
While large cities across the bridge have seen more of an increase, than here on the shore, officials say these situations are happening everywhere.
Nationwide, cyber tips have also increased significantly over the past year. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) received 18.43 million cyber tips between January 1 and September 30, 2020. This compares to 11.28 million over the same period last year. This represents a 63.3 percent increase year-over-year.
Between January 1 and September 30, 2020, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) also recorded 30,236 reports of online enticement of children, compared to 15,220 reports over the same period in 2019. This represents a 98.7 percent increase year-over-year.
Experts recommend adults monitor a child’s activity online well into their teenage years. “Most parents stop supervising their children at fourteen years of age. Most internet related disappearances occur fifteen and older,” says Joe Dugan, an internet safety specialist with the Maryland Department of State Police ICAC Task Force.
Internet safety experts also recommend children not be allowed to use devices in their bedroom with the door closed and that the devices be charged in an adult’s room at night.
Wendy Myers at the CRICKET Center in Worcester County says the most important thing people can do is have honest conversations about internet safety with their kids. “We have put devices in the hands of every child for distance learning to keep them safe from COVID. And we did this with little information about keeping them safe from online predators.”
Myers recommends the following as tips:
- Talk to the children in your life about online safety. Give information about predators who pretend to be much younger than they actually are.
- Review online activity on every device. This does NOT take the place of having conversations with children because they know about erasing history.
- Make sure kids know a trusted adult they can talk to about things they aren’t comfortable discussing with others.
- Be honest about the real dangers of online predators and make sure kids know how to respond if someone contacts them online and asks for inappropriate photos or videos.
Police say complaints involving the exploitation of children should be filed with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children by calling 1-800-843-5678(LOST) or by visiting MissingKids.com.
If a child is believed to be in imminent danger, citizens are urged to contact their local police or call 911 immediately.