Home Christian News Cyber Abusers Are Taking Advantage of Pandemic, Authorities Warn

Cyber Abusers Are Taking Advantage of Pandemic, Authorities Warn

“I showed [my daughter] the app I was going to use” for monitoring,” Hadnagy tells wthr.com. “I let her see me install it. I let her watch me put it on her phone. We did all of that together. Is she happy about it? No. Does she still hate it? Yes, 100 percent, but it was important for me to do that in a way that she knew I wasn’t sneaking, and I wasn’t trying to covertly watch what she was doing.”

Warning Signs and Resources  

Parents need to know who their children are befriending, both in-person and online. If kids become withdrawn or depressed, spend more time than usual on screens, try to hide their online activity, or receive strange gifts (especially devices), experts say parents should intervene.

Other safety tips include banning computers and smart phones from bedrooms, adjusting security settings on devices, sharing photos and videos with caution, and warning kids against revealing personal data online—even through a screen name that can contain hints such as one’s birth year. Experts recommend that parents set good examples in their use of devices and social media, while encouraging children to alert them to anything that makes them feel uncomfortable online.

With many school and church buildings shuttered during the pandemic, concerns also have been raised that child abuse is going underreported. Ministry leaders should stay vigilant about potentially dangerous situations, even when conducting programs virtually. Because any significant change in behavior could be a sign that a child is in danger, regular, strategic check-ins are helpful—especially during a time of social isolation.

Former child abuse prosecutor Victor Vieth advises churches to adapt their child-protection policies for a virtual environment. When holding a Zoom meeting with children, for example, two adults should always be present. If that’s not possible, every streaming session should be recorded and later reviewed by another adult leader. Adults should always be appropriately clothed for online meetings, copy another adult on any messages with kids, and avoid communicating with children during the night.

Resources for church leaders are available through GRACE. Important numbers to keep handy include the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline (1-800-656-4673), the National Child Abuse Hotline (1-800-422-4453), and the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233). Europol also offers a range of safety guidelines for the “new normal” of the COVID-19 era.