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ICE reports spike in online child exploitation cases in Alberta amid COVID-19 pandemic

Online child exploitation cases spike in Alberta amid COVID-19 pandemic
WATCH ABOVE: The ALERT internet child exploitation unit says reports of online sexual exploitation in Alberta have spiked during the COVID-19 crusis. As Kendra Slugoski explains, in March, there more than double the average number of cases reported and increased internet use may be to blame.

The Alberta law enforcement response teams’ (ALERT) internet child exploitation (ICE) unit is warning parents to closely monitor their children’s internet use, as the province experiences a rise in online child exploitation cases.

ICE attributes the rise to increased internet use amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“With children being home from school, not only are they spending more time online, but it appears that so are the predators,” ALERT’s CEO, Supt. Dwayne Lakusta, said in a news release on Tuesday.

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

“They are looking to take advantage of our most vulnerable population: our kids.”

In March, ICE said it received an exceptionally larger amount of child exploitation reports in Alberta.

Compared to the unit’s two-year average of 110 cases, last month, ICE said it received 243 reports of online activity related to child exploitation and ICE said it expects to see another high-volume month in April.

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How parents can cope with kids at home during COVID-19 outbreak
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Lakusta said with these spikes in cases, parents need to more vigilant now than ever on how their children are using the internet.

“As a parent myself, I have recently noticed some concerning online behaviour 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’ online activities.”

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

In hopes of slowing the trend, ICE is partnering with the Canadian Centre for Child Protection to make internet safety resources available to all parents across the province.

These resources include information for parents, schools and child-serving organizations.

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

READ MORE: Child sexual abuse expected to rise amid COVID-19 pandemic, experts say

ICE said it receives most of its case referrals from the RCMP’s National Child Exploitation Coordination Centre, which works with internet and social media providers to track and investigate online activity related to child exploitation.

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In the first three months of 2020, ICE reported to have made 21 arrests and laid 61 charges in communities across the province related to child exploitation.

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