Over the past year, our lives have changed dramatically.
Our medical professionals, first responders, supply chain workers, small business owners, and so many more have emerged as true heroes among us – emblematic of the strength, resilience, and self-sacrifice that is at the very heart our great Nation.
I truly believe that this pandemic has brought out the best in so many of us, but while the world battled the health and economic effects of the Coronavirus pandemic, another issue has risen in the shadows.
Online child abuse and exploitation spiked as children began spending even more time online, and they were isolated with their abusers and away from networks of teachers, friends, and other support.
Due to social distancing and stay-at-home orders, many school assignments are now managed through Google Classroom and other online platforms; meetings are happening through Zoom, Google Hangouts, and Microsoft Teams; and online shopping is surging. Technology has proven to be essential to our “new normal.”
Unfortunately, criminals are using this same technology to exploit some of the most vulnerable members of society, our children.
In 2019, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children received 16.9 million reports of suspected abuse. Those reports included over 69 million photos, videos, and other files related to child sexual exploitation, many of which involved children younger than 10 years old.
These crimes are increasingly prevalent across the State as well. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office has experienced a 30 percent increase in CyberTips.
This week, the Cyber Crime Division of the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office completed a successful undercover mission targeting child exploitation, Operation Bad Santa. The mission took place on the Coast, and it resulted in arrests of at least 3 individuals who were charged with child exploitation, and in one case, accessing and possessing child pornography.
On Friday, my office also announced sentencings for six child predators across the State.
This horrific crime has no place in our communities. Every child is uniquely created in the image of God, and their lives should be filled with innocence, laughter, unconditional love, purpose,and hope.
My team and I will continue to work to stop child predators in their tracks, to protect and support victims of child exploitation, and to raise awareness until our children are no longer burdened by this loss of innocence and hope.
But we can’t do it alone. You also have a vital role to play in the fight to protect our children and strengthen our families.
Protect children from dangers online by putting safeguards in place to keep technology use safe and secure: use privacy settings and parental controls, teach children how to use the web carefully, pay attention to their online presence, and remind your students and children to never share images of themselves or their classmates online.
If you suspect a child is the victim of child exploitation, don’t hesitate. Call 911 immediately and contact the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office at 601-359-3680 or [email protected]. Working together, we can defeat child predators and help children experience childhood innocence and hope.
Submitted by Attorney General Lynn Fitch.