December 5, 2023 Dec 05, 2023 10 min read
Since 2020, Canada and the US have both seen a nearly 40% increase in the online sexual exploitation of children. This increase is thought to be due in part to the increasingly online lifestyles of school-aged children since the start of the covid-19 pandemic. Because this problem has become so disturbingly common, it’s unfortunately also becoming more likely that parents will have to deal with the effects of online sexual exploitation with their own children.
Sexual exploitation (sometimes referred to as “sexploitation”) is a specific type of sexual abuse that can affect both adults and children. Sexploitation typically involves the coercion of sexual images, videos, or activity from a victim by a perpetrator for the purpose of acquiring money or other benefits. While all forms of sexual abuse against children should be taken seriously and responded to immediately, dealing with sexual exploitation may require a more specific approach.
Examples of sexploitation include…
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Below are suggestions of specific steps to take if the abuse your child has experienced qualifies as sexual exploitation, blackmail, or sex trafficking. For a more detailed look at what to do upon finding out that your child is experiencing sexual abuse of any kind online, check out our article “I Found Out My Child is Being Sexually Abused Online. What Should I Do?”
Online exploitation is a big deal and may require the expertise of legal and/or social service professionals to be handled properly. Call your local child welfare or abuse victims organisation to find out if an advocate is available to help you. If you have the financial means, you could also consider seeking out legal counsel.
Questions having to do with whether or not to respond to an abuser’s threats, how to deal with blackmail, etc. should be directed to a legal professional or dedicated child sexual exploitation advocate.
If you live in Canada, you can search for organizations that may be able to help using the Go Thrive Go search tool.
All sexual abuse of children should be reported to the authorities, and sexual exploitation is no exception. Both the US and Canadian governments take child sexual exploitation seriously and have dedicated task forces for dealing with cases like these.
If you live in Canada, call the Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-833-900-1010 if what your child has experienced could be categorised as sex trafficking. For all other forms of child sexual exploitation, report the abuse via Cybertip.ca here, Canada’s national tip line for reporting the online sexual exploitation of children.
If you live in the US, reports of online child sexual exploitation should be directed to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children at 1-800-843-5678 or online here.
If you are concerned about revealing the identities of you and your child, most reports of online child sexual exploitation can be submitted anonymously.
Although you might be struggling with feelings of powerlessness to keep your child safe in a situation like this, there are certain things you can do to eliminate or at least reduce some of the immediate risks.
Keeping your child safe while you form a longer-term plan to deal with online sexual exploitation could involve…
While these approaches can feel extreme, especially to your child, they might be necessary depending on the severity of the situation. Online sexual predators are often experienced criminals who are good at acquiring personal information, location details, etc. While not all online sex criminals extend their abuse into the offline world, many do – and a notable number of child abductions can be linked to previous online communication. According to data gathered in 2012, about 7% of online sexual exploitation cases involved offline meetings between the victim and the perpetrator. Considering the startling increase of sexual exploitation in recent years, this percentage would most likely be higher today.
When negotiating new boundaries about privileges, online use, etc. with your child, it’s important to help them understand that you’re instituting these new (most likely temporary) rules for the sake of their safety and protection. While it can feel difficult to manage this, try approaching conversations about boundaries and expectations from a place of collaboration and cooperation with your child, as this will increase the likelihood that they will respect these new boundaries and understand their importance.
Unfortunately, not all children who fall victim to online sexual exploitation will immediately understand or agree that what they’ve experienced is abuse. This means that establishing strict boundaries and expectations could lead to conflict or emotional rupture between you and your child.
To increase the likelihood that you and your child will be able to navigate this situation from a place of cooperation and understanding, be sure to approach and regard them with respect and sensitivity from the start. Even if you feel upset, confused, scared, or disappointed by what has happened to your child, find ways to manage these emotions on your own time so that you can bring your best, most compassionate self to your interactions with your child.
Regardless of whether or not your child “went along with” the abuse they experienced, they are not to blame and they deserve to be treated as a victim in need of help, support, and kindness. Along those same lines, if your child has developed a bond with the person who abused them and/or if they’re struggling to understand that what they experienced was abuse, this simply means that they will need even more patience and sensitivity from you to help them understand and accept what has happened to them.
Experiencing online sexual exploitation has the potential to create lasting trauma for a victim, particularly when that victim is a child. However, navigating the fallout of sexual abuse within a family structure can be traumatizing for everyone involved, including parents and caregivers.
Seeking support from a trained therapist or counselor from early on in the healing process can make a significant difference in reducing the severity of ongoing traumatic stress symptoms. While it’s true that therapy will be most important for the victim, seeking out therapy as a family and/or as the primary caregiver to the child can bolster the positive impacts of therapy overall.
Many trained therapists and counselors exist who specialize in working with survivors of sexual abuse and exploitation. Depending on the services available in your area, some of these therapists may even provide services for free or reduced cost.
If your child has fallen victim to online sexual exploitation, they are unfortunately not alone. Thankfully, there are things that you can do to help keep them safe. No matter what you do, remember that your child is a victim and they should not be blamed for what they’ve experienced. Victims (especially children) are never at fault for the abuse they endure. Be sure to act as a loving, caring, and understanding guardian and protector as you and your child navigate this difficult and complicated time.
In recent years, the online sexual exploitation of children has spiked in prevalence throughout both Canada and the US. As a result, more and more families are dealing with the fallout of this type of abuse. For parents of children who have experienced online sexual exploitation, figuring out the best path forward will most likely involve speaking with a legal professional and/or social worker. Sexual exploitation is a serious crime that should always be reported to the authorities if the victim is a child. Unlike sex crimes committed against adults, most reports of child sexual abuse can be submitted anonymously. Whatever path you end up taking to ensure the protection of your child, prioritize being an emotional advocate and guardian as opposed to a disciplinarian. Children who experience sexual exploitation have done nothing wrong and should not be punished, blamed, or otherwise made to feel at fault. Parents who approach their children with understanding, sensitivity, and patience will have a much better chance of fostering collaboration and cooperation with their child while navigating a difficult and complex situation. Finally, seeking therapy for the victim and/or as a family will be an important part of reducing the likelihood that you and your child will experience ongoing post-traumatic stress symptoms.
Dana Anastasia (they/them) is an independent writer, editor, podcaster, and artist. With a degree in interdisciplinary sociology and a background in domestic violence and sexual assault advocacy, Dana brings a keen awareness of victim and survivor needs and experiences to their work. Learn more at www.danaanastasia.com.
US Department of Justice – https://ojjdp.ojp.gov/programs/sexual-exploitation-children
Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline – https://www.canadianhumantraffickinghotline.ca/
Action Against Abduction – http://www.actionagainstabduction.org/about-abduction/exploitation/
CBC News – https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/london/child-luring-and-exploitation-through-snapchat-is-on-the-rise-here-s-what-you-should-look-out-for-1.6722978