The FBI Warning about Child Sexual Abuse Exploitation during the COVID-19 Pandemic

by Mary L. Pulido, Ph.D.

The FBI sounded the alarm today regarding the dangers of children being abused by on-line predators. Due to schools closing across the country, most children are glued to their computers and phones, where predators lurk. Predators make casual contact with a child, gain their trust and eventually introduce sexual content into the conversation. They could also send them sexually explicit photos or videos and ask the child to send them photos or videos of themselves. The predator then can use these to continue the exploitation.

Anyone who is a parent today did not grow up with the generation of technology that their children are using to capture and document a tremendous amount of their lives on social media. The good, the bad, and the ugly is being recorded and shared. I recommend that parents have a conversation with their children about safety when using different forms of social media — from Facebook to texting and anything in between. And, that parents review and approve games and apps before they are downloaded. Don’t be afraid to check your children’s profiles and what they post, you need to know, and you need to protect them!

Here are a few tips for you to discuss with your tweens and teens regarding safety when using the internet and other web-based technologies during the pandemic. If you think this is an awkward conversation; you can hand them this blog to read.

· Be smart about what you post on the Web. It is a lot more public than it seems. Protect your space. Use privacy settings and don’t just randomly accept everyone’s request as a friend. Do a bit of investigating to find out more about them first. It’s recommended that you don’t use your real name or give out too much personal information on your Facebook page or other social media sites.

· Clean up your profile. Take anything embarrassing, too personal, or any photos that show you doing something illegal (drinking, drugs) off your page.

· Provocative and sexy names and pictures can draw attention from people you don’t want in your life, particularly online predators.

· Posting or sending sexy photos of yourself (sexting) can get you into big trouble with the law. If you are underage, they may be considered child pornography, a serious crime. Never take an image of yourself that you wouldn’t want your parents, teachers, or your employers to see. Think twice or three times before you post. You can’t take it back and it’s out there forever.

· You have no control over where the photos are sent once you send them. The image that you meant for your boyfriend or girlfriend can be sent to their friends, and their friends and their friends. If you forward a sexual photo of someone underage, you are as responsible as the original sender. You could face child pornography charges, go to jail, and be legally required to register as a sex offender. You could also be asked to leave a sports team or lose educational opportunities and have legal problems. Here is a video from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (2 minutes), where teens discuss the dangers of online posting.

· Report any nude pictures that you receive on your cell phone to an adult that you trust. Do not delete the message; get your parents or your guardian, your teacher, school counselor, or law enforcement involved immediately.

· Be careful what you download or look at. Some images are extreme, and once you see it — it’s in your mind forever. This is particularly true for violent and/or pornographic images.

· Adults who talk to you about sex online are committing a crime. So are adults who meet underage teens for sex. Some teens may think it’s fun, but it is serious trouble and best to report it to the police. You can also make a report through the CyberTipline

The COVID-19 pandemic can also present an opportunity to strengthen the protections that you put in place for your children. Let’s start by protecting them from the dangers that lurk in the internet. For more information about keeping your child safe visit

Executive Director, The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children

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