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KANSAS CITY, KAN. – U.S. Attorney Stephen McAllister is reminding educators and parents in Kansas not to let COVID-19 distract from keeping students and children safe on the Internet.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted our lives in so many ways,” McAllister said. “We should not forget, however, that young people still face more online threats than ever.”

“In this new environment,” he continued, “I want to remind parents, educators, caregivers and children about the dangers of online sexual exploitation. I urge adults to watch for signs of such exploitation and abuse and to report to and engage federal and state law enforcement authorities when exploitation and abuse are suspected or discovered.”

McAllister said children sometimes are too trusting online and befriend people they do not know. Predators take advantage of this and target children, often between the ages of 10 and 17, typically through social media. Children across all demographics and genders can be targeted and exploited. Sexual exploitation, even when there is never any physical contact, causes very real harm and has a lasting impact. Images and videos do not disappear from the Internet, and the long term effects can be devastating.

Online sexual exploitation can come in many forms. Sextortion occurs when a predator entices a victim into providing sexually explicit images or videos—usually by falsely pretending to be a teen, someone much younger and different than their real identity—and then threatens to share the images publicly if the victim fails to comply with the predator’s demands for increasingly explicit and degrading images and videos.

“In order for such victimization to stop, children need adult intervention and assistance,” McAllister said. “They have to come forward to someone they trust — a parent, teacher, friend, or caregiver—who can then cut off the communications and report the situation to us, which will permit law enforcement to go after the predator.”

McAllister urged parents to review the resources regarding child exploitation and other crimes related to COVID-19 at https://www.fbi.gov/coronavirus. If you suspect or become aware of possible sexual exploitation of a child, please contact the FBI, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, or your local law enforcement agency and report it. Such exploitation is a serious federal crime carrying severe federal penalties.

You can call the FBI office in Kansas City at (816) 512-8200 or make a report online at https://www.ic3.gov/ .

“Federal law enforcement has taken an aggressive approach toward the investigation and prosecution of COVID-19 related crimes such as fraud, price-gouging and hoarding of essential medical supplies,” McAllister said. “But we stand ready to act just as aggressively against those who might seek to take advantage of this situation to exploit our children.”

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