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San Diego DA Establishes Online Training For Teachers To Recognize Exploitation Amid Pandemic

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The San Diego Trafficking Prevention Collective, formed last year, is now providing online training to help teachers take notice of signs of potential exploitation, even while distance learning is the only way to monitor students.

Speaker 1: 00:00 With many families now living in quarantine at home. You would think that children should be safer than before. But it turns out that all the hours that children are spending online exposes them to new risks that parents may not be alert to. San Diego is human trafficking taskforce has seen an increase in cases involving juveniles since the covert 19 quarantine began and San Diego's trafficking prevention collective is working to educate parents and teachers of the warning science we have with us now. San Diego district attorney summer. Stephan summer. Thank you so much for being with us. Thank you. And also don't view height a consultant for the trafficking prevention collective. That's a group that formed just last year. So let me start with you. Some are the internet crimes against children team has seen a doubling of cases reported against children in April. Now why do you think this is happening?

Speaker 2: 00:49 Well, we know that kids are home and uh, that, uh, there's no school, there's no sports activities, things that bring them outside the house where they can come in contact with people that may observe signs of abuse, may be able to help them report it and they're spending a lot more time on their tablets, their phones, their social media. And parents have a sense that that means that since they're around, everything is okay. But the fact is that the predators are still coming through their devices, right. And the safety of their home.

Speaker 1: 01:29 Some of the figures are quite unsettling. We've heard reports that technology based exploitation have tripled. That's to the national center for missing and exploited children during the pandemic. This increase is national, but I mean is it really being born out locally as well?

Speaker 2: 01:44 Oh, for sure. The internet crimes against children task force that's composed of different police departments. Sheriff and the district attorney's office, uh, normally gets about 250 reports a month in the month of April, which is when the stay at home orders were in full effect. They received 799 reports related to the exploitation of children. Those are, um, images of child pornography, uh, other solicitations coming from a variety of sources. And that matches then the national statistics for the national center for missing and exploited children that also saw this triple effect in April with 4 million reports, uh, of crimes against children.

Speaker 1: 02:37 No, Don, you're helping to develop tools for, for parents and for teachers to prevent children from becoming victims of online exploitation. So how can a parent, for example, pick up clues that something like this might be going on

Speaker 2: 02:52 for a parent? The first step is to really stay engaged with their students and their children. You know, no, what

Speaker 3: 03:00 they are, um, the different platforms that they're involved in really become educated with the, uh, the social media platforms and also with a variety of applic apps that are out there talking to kids about dangers of social media and the consequences of social media. Um, and also one of them, one of, I think is the most important thing is really to check your child's privacy settings on a regular basis on their phones.

Speaker 1: 03:27 But what are some of the warning signs? I mean, rather than looking in your child's phone, are there any warning, silent signs that you might pick up from your child?

Speaker 3: 03:35 Changes in behavior. Oftentimes they don't have language skills in some area in some ways, uh, just because you know, they're, they're, they're living inside themselves and uh, there's a lot of emotions and those behaviors often are, is, is another form of language and the way of communicating to adults around them. Uh, kind of pulling away from the family, becoming isolated, uh, more into social media, more into the possibility that there may be somebody that they're communicating with that's an older person that may be grooming them, establishing a relationship with them and that they're sharing their information and their thoughts and they're pulling away from France and isolating themselves from families. Also to being very aware, really changes in their moods. Some of that is just what you might say was just normal adolescence. But you know what, you still want to be aware of it. And is there a disconnect?

Speaker 1: 04:28 Summer, I know that it's difficult to talk about, but we have to be, you know, armed and prepared. What kind of exploitation is being reported online? I mean, what actually is the risk? Is the child being exposed to things online or other more physical risks?

Speaker 2: 04:43 Well, there, there are both. There are physical risks and that when a child pornography is produced, that's actually a crime happening. These aren't actors or children. And we know that there's an explosion of a homemade, a new child pornography that is being recorded and that often involves sexual acts with a child by an adult that is being filmed. Unfortunately, many of the predators are people that are in the child's world. So it is a, uh, you know, a step parent or an uncle or somebody who has access to the child and where they're able to produce these kind of homemade, uh, child pornography videos. Others are more in the form of a nude pictures and things that are produced more by a child being deceived and lured into sending a naked photograph that's then exploited and used online. Other forms are actually, uh, like the, the old days, uh, pre, uh, covert, which is a luring of a child to run away to a party and kids are bored.

Speaker 2: 06:02 They're a tome. We've had several cases recently with 14, 15, 16, and 17 year olds running away thinking they're going to a party, they're tired of being home, but instead it's a party in a detached garage or in a, in a garage that's converted. Then there's alcohol and drugs introduced. And, uh, these young girls, in this case, the squirrels are being sold for sex and, uh, photographs are being taken up to them. Um, what's really important and one tip that I have for parents that I've learned from the mouth of kids when we have them as victims when it's too late and we ask them, why didn't they tell their parents what is going on that somebody was extorting them on the internet? Why didn't you tell someone, you know, their number one fear is having that lifeline, their phone, their tablet, taken away from them by their parents.

Speaker 2: 07:07 They want help but they don't know how to ask for help. So I would say it's very important for parents to very directly tell your child if something happens, someone is talking to you and you're uncomfortable, you can tell me and I will help you get rid of that predator, that source of harm. But I won't take away your device because we have this contract, distressed relationship and done any last words about um, age appropriate, uh, discussions with your children? Because obviously prevention is the best approach here, but you would approach that differently with children of different ages, right?

Speaker 3: 07:51 With the collective and the resources that we have available for the collective. We have age appropriate materials, you know, for teachers to be able to, um, deliver to students. And, and for example, if you look at our fifth grade curriculum to protect curriculum and supportive with the, with the project roots program, the afterschool program, it really talks about safe people, safe places and safe choices. And really listening to your inner, inner, your instincts, your inner voice. And if your inner voice tells you that something's not right or something's wrong, who do you go to? Like Somerset, who do you go to? You know, you go to the, who's a trusted adult you go to. If you see something that's not right on social media, who do you go to for help?

Speaker 2: 08:37 So finally for a parent, who do you go to? Is there a place you would recommend they turn to if they think something really is going wrong?

Speaker 3: 08:44 I think if say if a parent thinks something is really going wrong is to work with their school, their school counselor, but also to, to contact, um, child welfare services and just consult with them. You can consult, you can contact Hubba for services and consult and say, this is the situation that we're having. This is what I'm seeing, this is what I'm [inaudible] and they'll, they'll help guide you in that. But also to your school counselor. And I know school counselors are still available at schools as well as school social workers and also the school teacher. And also the teacher at the schools too, are also available to be able to support and continue to support their students.

Speaker 1: 09:23 And to add to that, you, you must call nine one one if you think your child is being exploited or in danger. Um, you know, the human trafficking task force, the internet crimes against children, all of us, we work together in law enforcement and with the DA's office to bring about the safety. Um, we, we have to really hold those accountable because they're going to continue unless we stop them. Yes. Well, thank you so much for giving us a glimpse of this issue that San Diego district attorney summer. Stephan, thank you, summer. Thank you. And Don BW hight, who is with the trafficking prevention collective. Thank you, Don. Thank you.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.