The Rise Online of Child Sexual Exploitation During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Children are isolated as never before with all of the changes COVID 19 has brought to their lives. As reported in, 7/31/20, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that suicide was already the second leading cause of death for youth ages 10-14 in 2019 and the rate has nearly tripled for older teens, rising 76%, but the strain of COVID-19 has worsened these rates. With schools being closed, those who would normally report sexual and child abuse, or watch for signs of mental health decline, are not available to the children. Children are reaching out to any “friendly ear” who will listen to them through texting, Facebook Messaging, etc. Predators are aware of this and are taking advantage of these situations. Please read this article from our friends at Shared Hope to learn the warning signs and what you can do to help.

With these new, unprecedented times come new, unprecedented challenges.

Unfortunately, the anti-trafficking community has become glaringly aware that online predators and sex traffickers are taking advantage of this new reality caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. Predators understand that many of us are distracted and consumed by our own worries, planning, and isolation, and are using these distractions to their advantage. In fact, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) recently reported that they have observed: “predators openly discussing the pandemic as an opportunity to entice unsupervised children into producing sexually explicit material.”

Whether children are attending school in person, distance learning, or both, we know that they are now likely spending more time on the internet or gaming than during a normal school week. Even on weekends, when kids and teens would normally be spending time with friends or engaging in extracurricular activities, they are now spending more time in isolation, almost completely dependent on their devices to socialize. On top of all of that, parents are still balancing their own work and life demands with their new role as at-home educators, potentially resulting in hours of unsupervised screen time.

Sex traffickers

At the same time, adults are also spending an increased amount of unsupervised time on the internet. Whether unemployed or working from home, predators who may otherwise refrain from exploitive and predatory conduct while at work or in public are now far more likely to use their extra hours of isolation to identify, groom, and abuse children online. 

Predators are leveraging every possible online channel: mobile apps, social media, chat, email, websites, via phones, tablets, video game consoles, the list goes on. NCMEC shared in July that reports to their CyberTipline were up more than 90% between January and June 2020 over the same period last year.

Despite the intensifying challenges of these strange and difficult times, our resolve at Shared Hope has only strengthened. We are here to empower you to protect your child so that they never suffer the damage that sex traffickers and buyers have already inflicted on so many.

We offer everything from instructional videos about parental control options, to downloadable resources on internet safety conversation starters, to a webinar series featuring a myriad of leading experts—All available to download FOR FREE on our website.

Right now, Shared Hope is encouraging anyone who cares about children to take some time during isolation to make sure you are confident that the kids in their household are empowered to make safe choices while using the internet.

Here are some warning signs that a child in your life might be communicating with an online predator:

  • If they withdraw from family and friends
  • If they change screens or turn off the computer when someone enters the room 
  • If they become secretive or obsessive about online activity
  • If they receive phone calls or gifts from an older person you do not know
  • If they get overly-obsessed or panicked when they can’t be online
  • If they start engaging in sexting or downloading pornography

If you notice a child in your life exhibiting two or more of these signs, contact the NCMEC Cybertipline at 1-800-THE-LOST and your local law enforcement for help and support.

For more information about how you can protect children from online predators, visit

About the author: Kelly McCaughey is the Internet Safety Specialist and Community Engagement Manager at Shared Hope International in Vancouver, WA.  Kelly supports and manages volunteers, both locally and nation-wide, serves as a community educator on domestic minor sex trafficking, and heads Shared Hope’s internet safety initiative.

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