Safety Sync: Keeping Children Safe While at Home

Aug 12th, 2020

By: Natasia Hogston, Program Intern


Increased Online Risk for Youth due to COVID-19

As schools across the country have shifted to remote learning in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, children have been spending more time online. The increased use of technology, although beneficial for education, entertainment, and staying connected with friends and family, has created a higher risk for youth to be targeted with predatory behavior.

Online predators are using stay-at-home orders as an opportunity to exploit children, convincing them to produce sexually explicit content (Alfonso, 2020). According to a recent Europol report, there is evidence of an increase in the online activity of those intending to sexually exploit children through the internet (Turban, 2020). Additionally, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) stated that CyberTipline, the nation’s centralized reporting system for the online exploitation of children, has recorded a significant spike in reports during the onset of COVID-19. CyberTipline has recorded a 106% increase in reports of suspected child sexual exploitation—rising from 983,734 reports in March 2019 to over 2 million in March 2020 (Brewster, 2020).

Online Predatory Behavior

Predators strategically post on Web forums that they expect children to access and pose as minors when entering chat rooms and popular video game sessions.  High numbers of online child abuse reports are linked to multiplayer video games and gaming platforms such as Fortnite, Minecraft, and Roblox, as well as to social platforms (Bowles & Keller, 2019). Such platforms include Facebook, Snapchat, and Imgur (Alfonso, 2020).

Predators start conversations with children that ultimately escalate into pressuring them to send sexually explicit photographs or videos. Coercion tactics may include exploiting children’s vulnerabilities, such as self-esteem, using monetary bribes, or grooming tactics, such as asking personal questions and seeking personal information (Turban, 2020).

The images obtained may then be used as blackmail, as predators often threaten to send them to children’s parents if they refuse to continue providing explicit content (Turban, 2020). The shame around sex, which predators exploit, elicits a fear in children that compels them to keep these interactions a secret and prevents them from reporting the incidents to their parents (Turban, 2020).

Effects of Online Sexual Abuse (Hanson, 2017)

Children may experience shame, self-blame, fear, anxiety, and/or depression as a result of online sexual abuse. Potential long-term effects include substance misuse, self-destructive behavior (including suicide), isolation, and relationship difficulties with trust and intimacy.

Prevention Strategies for Parents

The End Violence Against Children partnership advises parents to take initiative and manage their children’s privacy and security settings and block and report people who make them feel uncomfortable. Parents are also encouraged to stay involved in their children’s digital world by talking to them about online risks and asking about who they’re connecting with online.

More specifically, parents should have conversations with their children about the risks of online predators—especially red flag behaviors to look out for, such as strangers asking for personal information or offering gifts (Turban, 2020). It is also important for parents to have an open dialogue about sex in order to combat the shame that predators often exploit (Turban, 2020).

With families staying home together more often, parents may be more aware of their children’s locations and physical safety. However, they should stay alert to the potential risk of online predators. Thus, monitoring children’s Internet habits and having these conversations are crucial to protecting them from online predators, especially with the increased screen time that has resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic.   


National Child Abuse Hotline 1-800-422-4453

Report an incident

Keeping Children Safe Online by the U.S. Department of Justice

Internet Safety 101

Tips for Kids and Information on Grooming Tactics

Maryland Rape Crisis and Recovery Centers

Maryland Child Advocacy Centers


Alfonso, F. (2020, May 25). The pandemic is causing an exponential rise in the online exploitation of children, experts say. CNN. Retrieved from:

Bowles, N., & Keller, M. (2019, December 7). Video games and online chats are ‘hunting grounds’ for sexual predators. The New York Times. Retrieved from:

Brewster, T. (2020, April 24). Child exploitation complaints rise 106% to hit 2 million in just one month: Is COVID-19 to blame? Forbes. Retrieved from:

CyberTipline. (2020). National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Retrieved from:

Hanson, E. (2017, May). The impact of online sexual abuse on children and young people: impact, protection, and prevention. Research Gate. Retrieved from:

Turban, J. (2020, April 28). The Coronavirus pandemic puts children at risk of online sexual exploitation. Scientific American. Retrieved from:

(2020, April 17). Stay safe at home, stay safe online. End Violence Against Children. Retrieved from:

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