Children And Online Sexual Abuse: What Are The Numbers?

In July 2018, a parent of an 11-year-old girl reported to Snapchat that one of its users had been engaging in inappropriate communications with her daughter. The user was identified as Christopher Jeorge Millican, 29.

When Snapchat reviewed Millican's account, they found images and videos of another minor, a then, 15-year-old, engaged in sexually explicit conduct.

Snapchat reported this to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), which contacted the Central California Internet crimes Against Children Task Force in Fresno, California.

Investigators were able to identify the 15-year-old victim. She told them that Millican had coerced her into creating the images and sending them to him. Authorities said Millican was on active duty with the U.S. Navy at the time of his offense. Millican was convicted and sentenced for his crime.

U.S. Department of Justice "Former Navy Sailor Sentenced for Producing Images of Child Sexual Abuse" (Dec. 09, 2022).

Commentary and Checklist

Cyber exploitation of children is a serious risk.

A 2022 report from the University of New Hampshire said a recent study showed that 16 percent of young adults in the U.S. have experienced at least one type of sexual abuse online before they turned 18.

The study involved more than 2,600 young adults between the age of 18 and 28. It was published in the Journal of the American Association Network Open  - a monthly open access medical journal published by the American Medical Association. Also, online child sexual exploitation increased 35 percent in 2021 compared to 2020, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

In most cases of online child sexual abuse, parents of the victims and those who work with them are not aware of what’s happening, just like the case of the 15-year-old victim in the source article.

It is therefore important for parents and other safe adults to take appropriate steps in preventing online child sexual exploitation. Here are some suggestions:

  • Understand child sexual abuse and communicate to children the facts and dangers regarding cyber exploitation.
  • Set rules for computer and mobile device use.
  • Keep computers in public areas of the home and monitor children's online activity. Know the child's passwords to computer, email, and social media accounts.
  • Monitor your child's mobile devices for sites visited, email, cell phone, and text use, and let your child know you are doing it.
  • Teach the child what personal information is and to never share it with people outside the family. Help your child make location, gender, and age neutral email addresses.
  • Instruct your children to use privacy settings on social media sites and also remind them that even high privacy settings do not guarantee their personal information will not be shared.
  • Encourage the child to show you inappropriate email, texts, and social media posts. Save them or take screen shots as evidence of cyber exploitation.
  • Remind the child that anything posted on the Internet stays on the Internet forever. Teach the child emails, posts, images, and texts cannot be kept private. They can be shared and forwarded.
  • Advise the child not to respond to online bullying or online sexual activity. Report any cyber incidents involving children that are sexual in nature.
  • Change the child's phone number if he or she is receiving bullying, threatening, or sexual texts and/or calls.
  • Contact websites and request they remove any websites or accounts that exploit the child.
  • Children have access to the Internet in many places-friends, school, library, coffee shops, etc. Discourage children from accessing the Internet from unfiltered locations.
  • Instruct the child never to provide personal information or meet someone he or she met online.
  • Explain to the child that forwarding sexting pictures of minors (children under 18 years old) is illegal even if the person who posts or forwards them is minor or even if the minor consents. It will be considered a crime: distributing child pornography. Remind your child of potential humiliation, embarrassment, and risk associated with sexting.
  • Listen to the child. Children do send signs and signals that communicate something is wrong. Keep lines of communication open and encourage the child to share any bad online experiences.
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