Online luring of children as young as 11 or 12 was among the top concerns aired at a talk by public health and safety officials attended by around 300 Abbotsford parents Tuesday evening.
The hard-hitting talks ranged from sexual exploitation of youth at parties to abusive relationships to understanding consent. But the chief concern expressed by parents during the approximately 50-minute panel portion of the event was technology and child luring on the internet.
“I’ve seen cases where a minute into their [online] friendship they’re asking for nudes. And if you get someone in the wrong mindset, they’re sending the photo and then it just goes from there,” Det. Keith Nugent with the APD’s Internet Child Exploitation unit told the crowd.
“Live streaming is something that really freaks me out,” he added.
Among the platforms, Nugent spoke of AmiGo, while Sheila Lum with the Abbotsford Community Services’ Stop Exploiting Youth program noted Musical.ly, YouTube, Live.ly and dating apps like Tinder. But because of the fast-moving attention spans and shifting fads, presenters noted that you can’t just focus on a few sites, but take a “broad approach.”
“Our youth are going on these sites, because you actually have to be 19, but there’s no one checking up on that,” Lum said, noting a girl using Plenty of Fish dating site. “I said ‘oh, I thought you had to be 19 years old.’ She was like ‘I am 19 on there,’ and at this point she was 13 years old,” Lum added to an audible gasp from some members of the audience.
“She actually wasn’t 19 on the site. I think she was 23 or 24, and she said ‘because I screwed up. I didn’t know the date; I didn’t know how to do the math to do the date.’”
While conversations of child luring online often focus on young girls, Lum noted newer platforms are being used to target boys — online gaming.
In particular, there was a focus was on Fortnite, an online shooter game, pointing to the arrest of dozens of men in New Jersey accused of luring children through the game. But one presenter noted that boys often will dismiss news like that as one-off situations.
“It does feel like an uphill battle because it is. The amount of research and money that is poured into apps and gaming and social media — it’s kind of like how the tobacco industry used to be, where heavy lobbying, heavily funded,” Lum said.
“So we’re going up against psychologists and doctors that aren’t doing good. They’re using all of their information to when to give a notification. Every time a kid gets a like, they actually get a little squirt of dopamine. It feels good. But I just want parents to know that even though it’s an uphill battle, you aren’t alone.”
Presenters spoke of the importance in building a respectful relationship between parents and children in which the children know they are not in trouble if they fall victim to exploitation or abuse. But they added that even still parents don’t hear everything.
“I’ve worked with probably thousands of youth over the years, and even the ones who have said to me, and there’s only been a few, that they have a great and close I-tell-my-parents-everything, open relationship — ‘oh, but not that. I don’t talk to them about my real drug and alcohol use. I don’t talk to them about this,’” one presenter said.
“So it is really, really important if they can have a network of support people.”