Opinion Power to Speak: Talk to your Kids about Selfies
Hundreds of L.A. children and teens are playing into the hands of predators by sharing nude photos online
By Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell
This week, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Human Trafficking Bureau held a news conference and provided a comprehensive update on the horrific nature and sheer number of human trafficking cases that involve children and young teens taking nude photos of themselves and sending them over the Internet.
What may have started as a copycat of an online trend is now manifesting itself as a nexus between our teens and the predators who seek to exploit them for profit.
Last year the Human Trafficking Bureau and its co-located partners in the Los Angeles Regional Task Force on Human Trafficking investigated 519 cases that involved nude photos of girls and boys as young as eight years old. These photos are forever circulating in cyberspace.
Of these cases, one in four photos involved young teenage girls and boys who had taken nude selfies — perhaps as an “act of love” for a boyfriend or girlfriend, an act of teenage rebellion, a cry for attention, or because they were duped by someone posing as a friend or teenage acquaintance.
All too often, these images end up on the Internet or in the hands of child predators, some of whom actually make contact with these children with specific intent of luring them into a relationship, extorting them for additional photos and videos, or in some cases, even money.
These cases slice across all socio-economic and racial lines.
Year-to-date 2016, in a period of just two and a half months, Human Trafficking Bureau detectives have investigated 81 cases involving nude and compromising photographs or videos of our young children and teens on the Internet.
The quantity of these images number
in the thousands. Online forums and websites that market themselves as platforms where these images ‘disappear’ are very misleading. Let me be clear: these images never disappear. They are forever present on the Internet, viewed and traded like baseball cards by child molesters, predators and extortionists, many of whom re-post these nude images on file sharing sites, exponentially exposing these inappropriate and illegal images of a young girl or boy. Afterward, our young victims often fall into deep depression and have suicidal feelings which stay with them for a lifetime.
Our youth need public figures and parents to work together and provide information to our families about the high-risk consequences of inappropriate photo sharing. We need and want to partner with high-profile individuals whose form of self-expression is not blatantly a form of commerce, but a demonstration of the importance of setting goals and teaching our children — especially our girls — that they have more to offer than just their bodies.
Parents should also understand the legal jeopardy for teens sending nude photos over the Internet or cellular devices. Directing someone to make, send or possess these photos is both a federal
and state crime.
Every day our Human Trafficking Bureau sees the tragic realization for parents who learn of their child mimicking what they see in the media or buying into the myth that their online accounts are truly private, truly secure, and that they can control the access of the increasingly sophisticated criminal enterprises who hunt for their next victims on the very platforms parents may believe are just for fun.
I encourage parents to learn more about the consequences of sexting and sharing nude photographs as well as the threat that online predators pose to our children by contacting the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (missingkids.org), the Los Angeles Regional Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, or the LASD Human Trafficking Bureau’s Sexual Assault Felony Enforcement (SAFE) team at (323) 526-5156.
The SAFE team can also assist victims and families and provide valuable direction in mitigating some of the issues that may arise if their child has already engaged in this conduct.
Let us do this for our children, and rest assured that the detectives with our Human Trafficking Bureau will pursue, to the fullest extent of the law, predators engaged in online sexual exploitation of our children.
Sheriff McDonnell originally posted this piece to Facebook as an open letter to parents.