San Luis Obispo County officials are encouraging parents and families to be wary of commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) as children are spending more time out of the classroom and on the internet during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Linda Belch, adult and children's services deputy director, says it is important for families to have open, regular conversations with children about the importance of cyber safety.
"Human traffickers use various online platforms to identify victims," said Belch. "Online predators will often convince the victim to share explicit photographs of themselves, which the predator will use to manipulate and bully them with threats of further online exposure."
Belch says good cyber safety ground rules for children include the following:
- Never giving out personal information, such as addresses or phone numbers.
- Never agreeing to meet someone in person who they have only met online without parent or guardian approval.
- Never posting pictures or videos of themselves or others online that parents or guardians would consider inappropriate.
- Telling parents or another trusted adult right away if someone online makes them feel uncomfortable or pressures them to break the rules.
Belch also says it is important for parents and caregivers to be more aware of the websites children are visiting and the people they contact.
If you or someone you know needs help regarding human trafficking or CSEC, Belch says individuals can call the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office at 805-781-4550 or the Polaris U.S. Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888. People can also text "Be Free" to 233733 or visit the Polaris Project website for more information.
To report acts of child abuse or neglect, contact the Child Welfare Hotline at 805-781-1700.