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Online sexual exploitation of children rising amid COVID-19 crisis, Quebec police warn

Police are warning parents to remain vigilant when it comes to the online activities of their children during the coronavirus pandemic. Thursday, April, 9, 2020.
Police are warning parents to remain vigilant when it comes to the online activities of their children during the coronavirus pandemic. Thursday, April, 9, 2020. Jonathan Hayward / File / The Canadian Press

As COVID-19 prevention efforts and lockdowns continue, the Sûreté du Québec and Montreal police are launching an awareness campaign to educate parents about the dangers of online sexual exploitation targeting children.

Police say there has been an increase in reports of the sexual exploitation of children during the period of confinement associated with the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“As young people spend more time online during this time of confinement, the risks associated with this type of crime also increase,” police warned in a joint statement.

Officials say parents must remain vigilant when it comes to the online activities of their children.

READ MORE: Scammers have never had a more target-rich environment amid coronavirus pandemic: experts

Sexual exploitation on the internet comes in many forms, according to police.

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Some cyber-predators persuade their victims to produce sexually explicit materials — either photos or videos — by manipulating or threatening them. Others pretend to be in the same age group as their target, or pose as a trusted adult in order to create a bond, with the goal being to eventually meet and exploit the youth.

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Sometimes, however, police say it’s the kids themselves who produce and share intimate images of themselves on various web platforms without being aware of the implications and possible consequences.

“Any form of sexual content involving minors, whether it be the work of a cyber-predator or a personal initiative, is illegal,” police said.

READ MORE: How to keep your children safe from online exploitation — and spot if they’re being targeted

In addition to staying on top of what their kids are doing online, it’s important parents talk to their kids about the potential dangers of internet activity.

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Police recommend the following tips to keep children safe:

  • Educate your children about the dangers they can be exposed to on the Internet, including sexual exploitation, and let them know how to protect themselves
  • Remind them never to disclose personal information without your permission (name, address, phone, etc.)
  • Encourage your child to share their experiences on the internet with you in the same way they talk about their other friends and non-virtual activities
  • Turn on the highest privacy settings for online gaming systems, electronics, and apps
  • Install the computer in a room accessible to the whole family
  • Supervise internet activities, among other things, by pre-selecting sites of interest yourself
  • Ask your kids to let you know if someone asks them to provide pictures of themselves or engage in activities of a sexual nature.

Don’t hesitate to contact your local police force if you suspect that there is a potentially dangerous online activity happening, or if you’re unsure of what to do when faced with a situation involving your child.

Additional resources can be found online on the Montreal police website and Cybertip.ca, Canada’s tipline to report the online sexual exploitation of children.

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