SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. - Officials with the San Luis Obispo County Joint Information Center are warning parents about the increased danger of online predators during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Experts report that online predators are expanding and exploiting new avenues to find their victims. Children are at home on the computer more instead of in the classroom because of school closures and the stay at home order.
More time on the computer also means more exposure to predators online through gaming and social media. That's why cyber safety education is more important than ever before to prevent human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC).
Human traffickers often pose as a peer close to the same age at the victim. They convince the victim to keep their relationship a secret and to meet in person where they can be kidnapped or convinced to runaway with the trafficker. Online predators also convince the victim to share explicit photos of themselves which the predator uses to bully and manipulate the victim.
Parents and caregivers should have heightened awareness of what their children are doing online and who they are contacting. Experts say there should be an open dialogue with parents and their children about the dangers and the rules for safe behavior online.
Good cyber safety ground rules for children include:
- Never giving out personal information, such as addresses or phone numbers.
- Never agreeing to meet someone in person who they have only met online without parent or guardian approval.
- Never posting pictures or videos of themselves or others online that parents or guardians would consider inappropriate.
- Telling parents or another trusted adult right away if someone online makes them feel uncomfortable or pressures them to break the 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 or
Text “Be Free” to 233733 or 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.