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On-line child exploitation on the rise

ALERT’s Internet Child Exploitation (ICE) unit and the Canadian Center for Child Protection are reminding parents about the need to closely monitor their children’s internet activity in light of a noted increase in cases of on-line child exploitation, likely in part related to digital dependency during COVID-19 isolation measures.

The ICE unit, which investigates on-line instances of child exploitation in Alberta, has experienced a record number of investigative referrals during the past month.

“With children being home from school, not only are they spending more time on-line, but it appears that so are the predators,” said Supt. Dwayne Lakusta, ALERT CEO. “And they are looking to take advantage of our most vulnerable population: our kids.”

For the month of March, ICE received 243 reported instances of on-line child exploitation in Alberta, far exceeding the unit’s two-year average of roughly 110.

ICE receives the bulk of its referrals from the RCMP’s National Child Exploitation Co-ordination Centre, which works with internet and social media providers to track and investigate on-line instances of child sexual exploitation.

“As a parent myself, I have recently noticed some concerning on-line behavior and have had to be even more diligent in monitoring what apps my child is using and who they are engaging with,” Lakusta said. “All parents need to be vigilant of their kids’ on-line activities.”

During the first three months of 2020, ICE made 21 arrests and laid 61 charges in communities big and small across the province.

As the result of these arrests, four children were rescued from sexual exploitation, abuse and/or instances of luring.      

ICE is anticipating an increase through April; however, the unit wants to buck the upward trend and is partnering with the Canadian Centre for Child Protection to warn parents and make Internet safety resources available.

“During these unprecedented times and higher than usual online connectivity, it is essential that we work together to educate to the public on the risks and ways to reduce harm to children while on-line,” said Signy Arnason, associate executive director of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection.

“Cybertip.ca has seen an increase in reporting involving offenders attempting to lure children through various chat and live streaming platforms. Now more than ever, parents and guardians must be vigilant in knowing who their children are connecting with on-line.”

The Canadian Centre for Child Protection has information on its site dedicated to supporting families during the COVID-19 crisis, including resources for families and care-givers; schools and educators; and child serving organizations.

This information is available at: https://protectchildren.ca/en/resources-research/supporting-you-through-covid-19/

Anyone with information about any child exploitation offence is encouraged to contact local police or cybertip.ca.

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