May 24, 2018

National Missing Kids Day

One of Fortalice’s core missions is to protect those who are the most vulnerable among us from online exploitation, and there is no population at greater risk than children. The world’s ever-increasing interconnectedness has given new meaning to the term “stranger danger.” With 464,324 missing kids, and 10 million cases of child pornography and exploitation reported in 2017 alone, it’s clear that the time to fight back is now, but for most parents, it’s unclear how.

In honor of National Missing Kids Day (Friday, May 25) and in support of its mission to raise awareness about the very real dangers facing children and ways to better protect them, we are providing simple tips to help parents take control and keep their children safe.

Recognize. Acknowledge the reality that, yes, it can happen to you and your children may be at risk. Evaluate how your posts and theirs may be exposing personal information either knowingly or unknowingly. Consider whether not you or your children use the “check-in” feature on apps or social media. While this may seem harmless, cyber criminals can actually use it to monitor patterns and habits in order to track your child’s location.

Discuss. Today’s kids are digital natives and many don’t understand the permanence of a digital footprint. Have a conversation with your children to explain the importance of using caution when posting online and protecting their personal information. Also, establish a “safe-zone” concept. Encourage them that no matter what mistake they or a friend may make online, you will always love them but they must come to you in order to fix it. Promise them the safe zone is a safe place where you will honor their honesty and not overreact. The worst situation is for a child to trust the wrong person, and/or make a bad decision, then hide it from you because they’re ashamed, embarrassed or too afraid to talk with you. Assure your child there’s nothing you can’t get through if you approach it together. Don’t wait to have this conversation. Do it now and repeat it often.

Trust but verify. Often times, kids know more about the digital world then their parents and they know how to protect their privacy and content. The problem is that they only use this knowledge to block out many of the adults in their lives. You should trust your children, but you also make it your priority to verify. Be where they are. If they use an app, use it too. If they visit a site or play a game, familiarize yourself with that site or game. Watch the places your children “tag” or where they “check-in” as a way to monitor their location. Don’t ignore privacy settings or your ability to set them -- be hands on and, in time, your children will thank you for it.

Although child protection should be every parents top priority, the responsibility does not fall solely to parents. It’s time for every citizen and sector to mobilize and join the fight against child trafficking and exploitation. Fortalice CEO, Theresa Payton, spoke at SXSW this year on how technology has enabled exploitation to become more widespread, but also how technology - and technology companies - can be the biggest advocates for stopping this crime.

But what should you do if you don’t work in technology or know how to help? Be creative! In her SXSW speech (https://vimeo.com/271493737), Theresa spoke about how a dog trainer trained his dogs to sniff a certain type of coating that is commonly used on hard drives - and that tipped off a dog to a hidden thumb drive that cracked the Jared Fogle child pornography investigation.  If you are in the music industry, produce music about this issue. If you are a blogger or podcaster, use your words to cover this topic. If you have a large social media following, push out resources to assist victims. For those in the technology innovation industry, help us spot victims faster to rescue them sooner. Tell your legislators you want National and International action on this; and most importantly, talk with kids in your life about these crimes.  

With a coordinated, international response, we can halt this evolving, rapidly growing, and pervasive threat to our youth and to our future.

For more information, visit the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at http://www.missingkids.com/home.