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SLO County outlines ways to protect children from sexual exploitation while they spend time online during the pandemic

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SAN LUIS OBISPO COUNTY, Calif. - San Luis Obispo County wants to remind families that the COVID-19 pandemic has created more and more ways for predators to access children.

As children spend more time online since the closing of schools, they increase their chances of coming into contact with a predator while on social media or gaming.

Cyber safety education is more important now than ever for the prevention of human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) in the community.

The County explained in a news release, "Human traffickers use various online platforms to identify victims. They often pose as a peer close to
the same age. The goal is to convince the victim to keep their relationship a secret and agree to an in-person meeting where the victim may be kidnapped or convinced to run away with the trafficker. Online predators will often convince the victim to share explicit photographs of themselves, which the predator will use to manipulate and bully them with threats of further online exposure."

County officials encourage parents and caregivers to have a heightened awareness of the websites children are visiting and the people they are in contact with.

Having open, regular conversations with children is important so that they know they can talk to you when strange things happen online. It is also important for setting rules and expectations that are clear in regards to online behavior.

The County recommends the following cyber safety ground rules for children:

  • Never give out personal information, such as addresses or phone numbers.
  • Never agree to meet someone in person that you only met online without parent or guardian approval.
  • Never post pictures or videos of yourself or others online that parents or guardians would consider inappropriate.
  • Always tell your parents or another trusted adult right away if someone online makes you feel uncomfortable or pressures you to break the previous rules.

If you or someone you know needs help regarding human trafficking or CSEC, the following resources are available:

  • San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Office: (805) 781-4550
  • Polaris U.S. Human Trafficking Hotline: (888) 373-7888.
    Text “Be Free” to 233733.
    Visit polarisproject.org.
  • 2-1-1 Hotline: Dial 211 or (800) 549-8989

To report acts of child abuse and neglect, contact the Child Welfare Hotline at (805) 781-1700. For more information and resources on cyber safety, please visit ReadySLO.org.

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Jessica Brest

Jessica Brest is a digital journalist and assignment editor at KEYT | KCOY | KKFX.