As the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) continues to closely monitor trends in crimes against children, we’ve noticed a clear and disturbing uptick in our CyberTipline reports of online enticement. In the year 2020 alone, we’ve seen the rate of these types of incidents increase up to 97.5% compared to the year prior.
Online Enticement involves an individual communicating with someone believed to be a child via the internet with the intent to commit a sexual offense or abduction. This is a broad category of online exploitation and includes sextortion, in which a child is being groomed to take sexually explicit images and/or ultimately meet face-to-face with someone for sexual purposes, or to engage in a sexual conversation online or, in some instances, to sell/trade the child’s sexual images. This type of victimization takes place across every platform; social media, messaging apps, gaming platforms, etc.
There are multiple reasons why reports of online enticement have gone up in 2020, but one of the most evident is that the safety precautions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic have moved both children’s and adults’ lives online even more than they already were. Many children have switched to virtual learning and have been spending more time than ever on social media or online gaming in lieu of seeing friends or meeting new people in person. This leaves kids and teens more susceptible to the dangers of the internet.
“Online enticement can happen to any child using the internet,” said Lindsey Olson, executive director of NCMEC’s Exploited Children Division. “Offenders are very effective at grooming children, gaining their trust, isolating them from their parents and then exploiting them. Parents often think that it would ‘never’ happen to their child, but we know that is simply not true.”
When a report comes in to NCMEC’s CyberTipline (the nation’s centralized reporting system for the online exploitation of children) the tip is reviewed, analyzed and made available to presiding law enforcement agencies all over the globe. This system has resulted in the rescue of countless children and the arrests of their abusers. “We take all reports of online enticement very seriously,” said Lindsey.
Common tactics of online enticement:
- Engaging in sexual conversation/role playing as a grooming method, rather than a goal.
- Asking the child for sexually explicit images of themselves or mutually sharing images.
- Developing a rapport through compliments, discussing shared interests or “liking” their online post, also known as grooming.
- Sending or offering sexually explicit images of themselves.
- Pretending to be younger.
- Offering an incentive such as a gift card, alcohol, drugs, lodging, transportation or food.
The recent numbers make it clear: there has never been a more important time to educate the children in your life about staying safe online.
“The best thing you can do to protect your child online is to be involved in their online life,” said Susan Kennedy, Prevention program manager at NCMEC. “Ask about what they are doing online and take a genuine interest. Provide guidance but try not to be overly punitive or judgmental. Offenders are able to take advantage of children when their activities are secret. This happens often when children are not comfortable or even afraid to go to adults in their lives when something is happening online, especially when they feel that they have done things they regret or know they shouldn’t have done.”
Fortunately, NCMEC has a collection of data-informed prevention resources for parents and children of all ages where they can learn more about how to stay safe and prevent online enticement. And for children 10 and younger, NCMEC’s very own animated series, “Into the Cloud,” teaches children useful tips and tricks for staying safe online. Catch up on season one for free and stay tuned for the launch of season 2, coming soon.
If you have experienced online enticement, know that you are not alone. Along with prevention resources, NCMEC provides help and support to those who have experienced this crime. Learn more here. You can also email email@example.com or call 877-446-2632 to be connected to someone for emotional support.
NCMEC also has the tools to help you remove explicit content that appears online. Click here to learn more.
If you or someone you know has been enticed online, you are urged to report it to NCMEC’s CyberTipline at https://www.missingkids.org/gethelpnow/cybertipline, or call our hotline at 1-800-THE-LOST, that’s 1-800-843-5678.