On April 30th, NRS was proud to participate in a Twitter chat hosted by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) and Thorn. This important conversation covered various aspects of child sex abuse, including risk factors, preventative measures, and what we’re doing to help end it.
If you missed the chat, you can still check out our answers below. Make sure to follow us on Twitter (@1800RUNAWAY) to catch future awareness chats. Thank you so much to NCMEC and Thorn for providing this opportunity for insightful conversation. We need to talk about this topic throughout the year to bring this issue to light, reduce survivor stigma, and ensure that we’re doing all we can to end child sex abuse.
A1. As online technology and social media continue to develop, there will be new and unidentified methods of exploitation. Young people, as ‘digital natives,’ continue to spend more time on the internet, placing them in more potentially vulnerable situations. #NCAPM https://t.co/Pu38sx7Ex7— National Runaway Safeline (@1800RUNAWAY) April 30, 2021
- Q1. What are some of the most critical issues in online child sexual exploitation?
A1 As online technology and social media continue to grow and develop, there will be new and unidentified methods of exploitation. Young people, as ‘digital natives,’ continue to spend more time on the internet, placing them in more potentially vulnerable situations. We must continue to work to make the internet a safer place for the next generation.
- Q2. What are some tips for parents/educators who want to talk to their children about child sexual abuse or risks online?
A2 These conversations should be included as a part of general safety conversations, such as not going anywhere with strangers or general conversations about consent.
Reassure them that they will never get in trouble for talking to you about these things, and that they can always come to you, even if they’ve been told to keep something a secret. Open lines of communication are a major defense against these risks, and against other complicated situations, such as running away.
- Q3. What vulnerabilities are unique to boys for child sexual abuse?
A3 Societal expectations place women and girls in the victim role for situations involving sexual abuse. This makes it much more difficult for boys to receive help, or to admit that something happened to them. This can lead to damaging long-term effects to their self-esteem and sense of self-worth. It is important to reinforce that sexual abuse can happen to both boys and girls, and that it is never their fault.
- Q4. What should I do if I find child sexual abuse material (CSAM) online?
A4 We always recommend reporting any such materials to the @NCMEC Cyber TipLine at https://report.cybertip.org/. The person reporting should fill out as much detail as possible and, if it is a legal case of CSAM, it will be reported to the appropriate authorities.
- Q5. What’s the long-term impact of untreated trauma from child sexual abuse?
A5 Child abuse can cause intense trauma in the survivor. If untreated, it can manifest in a number of ways that are disruptive to a person’s day-to-day life. Mentally, it can lead to PTSD, social isolation, severe depression and/or anxiety, and more. The trauma can also lead to running away from home, risky sexual behavior, and suicide or suicidal ideation.
- Q6. What are some ways we can prevent child sexual abuse? At what age, should parents have conversations with their children around preventing child sexual abuse and online risks?
A6 Parents can and should begin talking about sexual abuse and online risks as early as possible, with age-appropriate information. For children of a younger age, parents should emphasize boundaries and consent, including hugging.
Model these healthy boundaries by ensuring that the child knows that, when it comes to their body, they can always say ‘no’, and that it should always be respected. Beginning this conversation early on will make it easier to talk about as they get older, and will create a safe place for your child to come to if they are scared, uncertain, or confused by something inappropriate.
- Q7. How much should I monitor my child’s online activity?
A7 It is important to allow young people the space to learn how to manage their own online presence. Constant monitoring of their online activity can build distrust and make them less likely to open to up to you. There is also a chance that they will find ways to hide their online activity, making it even harder to find out if something is wrong.
To best mitigate online risks, there must be an open, honest and trusting relationship. However, if a young person begins exhibiting unusual behavior (becoming withdrawn, mimicking sexual behaviors with toys, sudden mood swings), it is time to start asking questions and, eventually, review your child’s online history in detail. See a full list of possible signs from @RAINN here: https://www.rainn.org/articles/warning-signs-young-children
- Q8 What are some reasons children might not disclose their online sexual abuse?
A8 There are many possible reasons children might not disclose their online abuse: they may not know how to discuss it, or they may have been groomed and not realize that it is wrong. The most common reason is feeling shame or embarrassment. Ensure that there is an open dialogue around this topic.
Define “sexual abuse” early for children. Use proper terms for their body parts and explain clearly that no one should touch them there, except for a doctor. Explain that sometimes adults break that rule, that it is wrong, and that they should come to you right away if inappropriately touched or approached online.
- Q9. How should we talk to kids about sending nudes/sexting?
A9 Above all else, it is important to emphasize the main risk of sending nudes or sexting, which is that those images may be spread without their consent. Frame the conversation around trust: Do you trust the person you’re sending these to? What if you break up?
The best way to protect young people from the negative consequences of nudes or sexting is to talk about it in the context of healthy relationships and boundaries, just like with any sexual activity. Emphasize the importance of consent, both from the sender and the recipient.
- Q10. What should kids do if they get unwanted messages on social media?
A10 Make sure that they know they can always come to you if they receive an unwanted social media message. If they do, you should not restrict their internet access. This may come across as a punishment, and put the ‘blame’ on your child. Teach them how to report and block unwanted contacts (you can find tips for each platform here: https://webwise.ca/cyber-101/reporting/).
Also, encourage them to make their profiles private, and openly discuss what content they should or should not be sharing. As always, open communication is key.
- Bonus question Thank you for participating today! Please share your resources for preventing child sexual abuse and protecting kids online.
Young people will continue to use the internet in new, creative and exciting ways. Educating them on best safety practices is essential. The @NetSmartz educational series is a great tool for providing this info. Visit their site here: https://www.missingkids.org/netsmartz/home
Thank you @MissingKids and @Thorn for hosting this essential conversation. Surviving childhood sexual abuse has incredibly damaging, lifelong impacts. As we work to end youth homelessness, ending child abuse must also be a priority. #NCAPM #EndYouthHomelessness— National Runaway Safeline (@1800RUNAWAY) April 30, 2021