Healthy Development & Effective Parenting

This past month we had Emmaleigh Welka speaks about how to promote healthy development and effective parenting with ICAC recently launched their new Learn-at-Lunch Zoom meetings which will be held on the last Wednesday of every month.

This past month we had Emmaleigh Welka, with the Ohio Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (ICAC), join us to discuss how to promote healthy development and effective parenting to support online youth activities.

Promote Healthy Development

Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it. So let’s get started so like what was said. My name’s Emily, I work for the Ohio ICAC Task Force before we get started into like the nitty gritty of what I’m gonna talk about. I was asked to bring a personal story from our agency to kinda give you guys more of an inside view. As to you know what we do, what it can look like, who it can affect, and so on. And I was kind of struggling to find a case that I thought would be a great example, and while I was doing my searches I found this video instead, of all places, it was on Instagram, which I thought was very interesting, but to me at least, it really reflects what types of issues we’re dealing with, number one and number two, what our offenders actually look like cause, we all have preconceived ideas of people who offend on children what their lifestyle looks like. You know different things that they might be involved in. And I feel like this video is very accurate and kind of doing away with those misconceptions and those preconceived ideas. So if you can’t hear it, please let me know, and I’ll try to mess with the zoom. But stop it.

“When I was just starting out it was harder you really had to keep things. Hush, hush! But then the Internet came along and everything changed. Now we hide in plain sight and share all kinds of things. We review rate, make recommendations just like anything else out there. pre-internet. You know how hard it was to pretend to be a nine-year-old girl. Now I just roll up looking like their bff, and the best part. The only people who could stop me pretend I don’t exist. You ask me. There’s never been a better time to be a monster.”

Alright, so that video comes from a it’s a nonprofit organization, essentially, just trying to bring awareness to what the issue looks like. And that video is pretty spot on, for you know, a nonprofit who works in this in that we’re not seeing offenders who look like what we thought they would, right? People that live in their parents basement never see the light of day. That’s what we all think these people look like. And that’s not necessarily the truth.

We’re seeing people that have families themselves. They’re members of the community. They hold jobs in which they’re relied on in their communities, such as teachers, doctors, nurses, and so on. So then I wanna recenter it to what we’re seeing within our task force specifically in Ohio.

So we work very closely with the National Center for missing exploited children, as all ICACS do across the country. These numbers that you’re seeing are the number of tips that we’ve received in regards to child exploitation material within the State. So in 2015 we received slightly over 3,000 tips from the National Center, telling us that there are about 3,000 cases related to child exploitation online. As we see throughout the years these numbers continue to grow. I mean, you know, all the way up until last year, where we’re seeing 21,564 of these tips. The reason that these continue to rise is the main thing is social media. We’re seeing. I mean, in 2015, the main social media kind of hub for us was Facebook. Now, when we ask kids if they have Facebook, they kind of look at us a little funny and say, it’s for old people, their words, not mine. I have a Facebook but that’s really kind of where that all started. And now, up until this year, we have Youtube, Instagram Tiktok, like a whole bunch of different apps that kids are on every single day.

While our offenders aren’t the brightest bolts in the box, they aren’t completely stupid. They realize that if they want to connect with kids, they want to prey on children, they’re gonna have to do it where the kids are. And that’s in these different social media platforms, different websites and so on. So a little more background on us. Specifically, we’re one of 61 agencies throughout the country. Specifically dedicated to fighting online child exploitation. We work very closely with over 385 agencies throughout the State of Ohio. Whether that’s local police departments, sheriff’s departments, prosecutorial agencies. We also have Federal partners that work with us. Our closest partner is homeland security investigations. But we’ve also worked with the Secret Service, the marshals, the FBI, and so on. So we have a lot of moving pieces. And we honestly we handle every case within the State of Ohio that has to do with online child exploitation. And when I say, online child exploitation, the cases that I am talking about are involving child pornography. So anything that involves that in the State of Ohio comes through our office first.

Where we come from initially, before we got started in Ohio, the ICAC Task Force was created by the Department of Justice in the late nineties. If you go to their website and you’re looking for some history, you’re gonna gonna come across these 3 tennets the first is that more kids and teens are online the DOJ saw in the late nineties that the Internet was going to become commonplace for a lot of families schools, people in general. So they saw that, okay, you know, adults are starting to use it. It’s only a matter of time before kids are also starting to use it.

The second is that more legal materials able to be circulated online compared to before? So I mentioned earlier, we deal with child pornography cases. However, in you know our agency, and within law enforcement, it’s typically called Child Sexual Abuse Material or CSAM they mean the exact same thing in terms of child pornography or CSAM. So if you hear me use them interchangeably, just know they are completely equal. The reason that we’re changing the rhetoric on you know the terms specifically is because with the word pornography there’s an implied level of consent. And obviously young children cannot give consent. So that’s why we’re trying to change the lingo, so to speak.

And then, lastly, more adults are seeking unsupervised contact with kids and teens. You know, in the early days we were all told to beware of the shady white van that’s driving around, you know, parks and schools trying to get kids into the van with candy, or whatever. While that does still happen, it’s in the minority. By far our funders realize that if they want to communicate directly with kids, it’s much easier to create an Instagram account or a Snapchat account, and pretend to be, you know, a 9 year old girl, or 14 year old boy, than it is to try to go to these public places, wait for a kid to come by, and then go about it that way.

So you’re probably wondering where do our cases come from. There can’t be a possible way that my child is on these websites is on these places where crimes like this happen. And I’m here to tell you that that’s not true. So ESP at the top stands for Electronic Service Provider. It essentially means an app or a website. And we only deal with the clear net in terms of our cases. We don’t do any dark web investigations. To be completely honest, we would have to hire a whole other staff of ICAC individuals to handle the dark web, because we have enough work as it is on the clear net. So these companies that I have listed here. These are not exclusive by any means. These are just the ones that were our top offenders for 2023.

So we receive the most cases, the most tips from Snapchat and that was slightly over 3,000 tips underneath that was Twitter, and then Google, Facebook, Synchronous is essentially the cloud for Samsung users and apple users. So I’m not too familiar with that. But then, Microsoft Instagram, and I’ll talk about Apple in a quick second but the reason that I show you these ones specifically is because number one, they’re our top offenders and number two, they are things that you have probably used in the past, or your kids are definitely using. Let’s take Google, for example, Youtube is owned by Google. I guarantee you that if your child goes to school and they have a ChromeBook, they’re using Google accounts, school drive, they probably have a Gmail that they use for school.

So these are things that kids have very easy access to. It takes less than a minute to set up a Snapchat account or an Instagram account. So these things, aren’t, you know, tucked away in the seedy parts of the Internet that we don’t have to worry about. Unfortunately, we do have to worry about them. Why, I didn’t put apple in there, even though they only gave us 5 tips is to talk about another side of a reoccurring topic in social media. And that’s privacy. A lot of companies are very focused on privacy for their users, saying, I’m taking a hands off approach. Whatever you put on your account is your business and not mine. And that’s what Apple does.

Whatever you create your account with apple, whether you’re an iphone user, you have a tablet, whatever the situation is anything that you upload to the cloud through apple, they don’t monitor. So for us we’re not getting nearly as many cases as we should be getting from apple because they are trying to protect their user base and while we are all about privacy, we promote privacy for the everyday user. It there’s a it’s like a double edged sword for us, because as much as we promote privacy, these companies are then turning around and not giving us the cases that we need to look into, and Apple’s not the only offender with this. Any app that touts end-to-end encryption. We don’t get any cases from them, because that company is not monitoring their users.

So with our cyber tips, they’re typically split up into 4 categories, the lowest category that we see typically is financial. I’ll talk about sex torture a little bit later. But that’s where that’s falling into. And then, next to that is the explicit conversation and role play enticement slash sex, is the next category. We get about a third of our tips that involve an adult who is trying to meet up with a minor for either sexual purposes or for abduction. And then, lastly, the biggest category that we see is content. And this involves the trading of CSAM. Whether it’s photos or videos between adults, minors, adults and minors that would all fall under that category so that was a lot of the ICAC side of things.

What do I need to do to keep my kids safe?

And now I’m gonna kinda talk more about probably what you’re all thinking about in terms of what do I need to do to keep my kids safe? What are the areas that you think that you know should be policed a little bit more. And I wanna draw our attention to social media specifically.

So this was a study that came out of Chicago, where this hospital was essentially trying to figure out where the larger areas of concern were for social media and they were able to split it up into two main categories.

The first was what excessive social media took away from their children. So parents cited things such as there was a lack of sleep. There’s a lack of face to face interaction their schoolwork suffered, and so on. And then there was another category which was what excessive social media expose their children to, and they cited things such as hate, speech, sexual content, cyber bullying, and so on. With this study, specifically, though, there was a much larger emphasis on what social media was taking away from their children versus what the exposure was.

So these are some of the graphs within that study that I thought were important to highlight. So like I said, you know, there’s a huge emphasis on not sleeping enough. You know what social media is taking away from my child, but in terms of the behavior that was cited that was inappropriate, that kids were exposed to a lot more was too sexual content. And we do see this with, you know the social media that’s around right now. Celebrities are sharing scandalous content. I mean, it’s easier than ever to go on Google and just Google, what is sexting? And you’ll get tons of articles on what it is. You know how to do it, and so on.

With this study, the conclusion was that not all screen time is equal. And unfortunately, the Internet is here to stay. We can’t really get around it. Kids are gonna be exposed to it, if not in the home, then at school or with their friends. I mean, there are tons of different avenues in which kids are gonna kind of figure out how the Internet works. So for us, we need to try to weigh the good with the bad in that the Internet does promote certain positive things, it enhances social support. It facilitates social connectedness. But on the flip side of that it does emphasize social comparisons. That lack of in person interactions can be harmful. So for us, we need to kind of weigh like I said, the good with the bad. Do the offline vulnerabilities outweigh what we can gain from being connected with people online. And something that they cited specifically that they were looking with was cyber bullying and how that offline vulnerability. If someone is being cyberbullied online, it’s even more so in person and in real life.

So for us, it’s trying to gain that balance between, you know, being able to have our child be connected, but also keeping them safe. And with that we really emphasize rules and boundaries, and these are ongoing conversations with your child. They can’t be just a one time. Sit down. Say, you need to use these settings. I’m locking this unlocking that they have to be ongoing conversations, because that’s what we see the most success with in terms of kids who grow up and are able to go online and you know, operate it safely.

So these boundaries can include time limits. They can include who they interact with whether it’s, you know, just family, just their parents, kids from school, and also what apps and sites that they can use. And with these boundaries come privacy settings.

So a lot of parents do emphasize privacy settings with their kids, which is awesome. That is really what we’re looking for. But on top of that we need privacy to also be going through that contact list and going through that follower list cause it’s not enough to just have your privacy settings in place, but then to friend everyone under the sun. Cause, then it kind of negates the whole thing. It doesn’t really matter.

Then, if you use privacy and talking about privacy with your children isn’t necessarily a straightforward concept. It can be a little bit more fluid in the eyes of your child especially now that with social media and with those added freshers to have followers have likes a lot of kids don’t use privacy settings or don’t really monitor who their followers are, because that is their mindset.

So we really emphasize that it’s super important to add context clues to that conversation. So maybe it’s sitting down with them and looking at what they posted online, saying, “Hey, there’s a lot of information in this picture you’ve put out there. Do you see why, that’s a bad idea?”, or how can you tell that this is maybe not the best idea but the conversation still comes down to, how do I know my kids are doing online?

And with this I have a very quick story.

There was a mom who could not figure out Fortnite for the life of her. That was like the thing that she could not figure out. But her kids loved to play it. So how she kind of got her clue into that world was that she had a Friday night game night, where her kids were able to play Fortnite, but she played with them. So that was how she figured out how to get on the game, how to friend other people, how to join, you know, conversations or chats, or different games, and that was like her in into their world.

So why I bring up this story is because I think it’s a great example as to what we actually have to do. We can’t just give our child a device and say, okay, you’re old enough for Instagram. Figure it out. We have to go with them on that journey. We have to download it with them. We have to create that account with them. Follow them, friend them, you know, use those apps and use those websites that your kids like to use. Because number one, it’s gonna help you understand them better. And number two, it’s gonna give your child that trust to come with you, saying, hey, I was on this app. We’ve used it together before. What’s this thing happened? I need help with this? or I need help with that?

So I wanna circle back to the demand problem because with Ohio, specifically, we don’t have a sexting statute. So a lot of times, if there is a cyber tip or any kind of tip that involves a sexting case, they will come to us as well. Even if it involves two minors. It was sent consensually for Ohio law. We still are notified of those cases.

So these are some statistics that involve sexting in teenagers. But with this I wanna share another quick story. I’m all about the stories.

So as a task force, we were able to sit down with a group of high schoolers. They were all part of varying student council organizations, but we asked them we’re like, are these issues as big of a deal as we make them out to be, because we see the worst day in and day out. So for us, there’s a lot of urgency that comes with having these conversations and one individual spoke up, and he said that of the people that are caught by, you know, school resource officers staff their parents, who are reported by other people. They represent a very small percentage of the total people who are actually taking part. And we see this in the presentations that we give. I mean, schools will tell us whether it’s a high school, a middle school. In some cases, elementary schools where kids are sharing inappropriate pictures of themselves and inappropriate videos.

And so for us, we’re kind of changing the narrative on how we’ve approached it for the longest time. It’s been a lot of fear based tactics. But now we’re kind of changing that up and trying to approach it more. As these are the different things that could go wrong. If you choose to act in this way. The biggest thing is that we we do emphasize that there is a legal penalty. They’re not gonna be, you know, tried as adults. But there is a little bit of a legal penalty that comes with these sex. In cases. This photo can be passed around without your consent. In more serious cases it can lead to financial sex torture, which I’ll talk about in the next slide. But there are a whole slew of reasons why kids nowadays need to say no, instead of just conforming and continuing to uphold this social norm.

So sexortion is essentially when an offender, it’s an usually an adult poses online as someone they’re not and convinces a minor to send sexually explicit photos or videos to them. Once they have that material, they can either threaten the child, saying they want more content, or they could threaten them with extortion, asking for certain sums of money. Otherwise they’re going to leak the photos or leak the videos. The national demographic that we’re seeing the most in terms of our victims are males, ages 14 to 17, however, in Ohio, and I guarantee you a lot of other states, we see a 50/50 split. It happens to all ages. It happens to girls, boys, teenagers, middle schools like it doesn’t really matter. We’re seeing it all over the map with us.

So these are from a case that we had about 2 years ago, now slightly under two years. On the left, there it says, cyber tip line report. So, how this case unfolded was, we were notified that a sex torture case was unfolding via Instagram so we got that report on the left, saying that it was a high priority, time sensitive. We need to look into this, so when we looked into this case, what it involved was 17 year old, male who was messaging on Instagram someone who he believed to be, was a 16 year old female. From our end, we still haven’t identified this offender. We are not entirely sure where they are, so at least from when we initially looked into this case, it looks like this teenager was talking to another teenager so for about 20 min there was a lot of small talk between the two individuals. And then this offender, pretending to be a young girl. Asked our real victim to send a sexually explicit video. This kid said alright, sure. He sent a video of himself. And then immediately our offender turned around and said, I want $6,000, otherwise I’m gonna essentially ruin your life.

So these are just the three main messages from about thousands of texts that were sent between these two individuals. But this offender was threatening to send this video to our victims, parents, to classmates, to his friends that he connected through Instagram. If this kid did not send him a vast sum of money.

And I don’t know what 17 year old has six grand laying around but this kid he didn’t work, he was in sports full time. He was a high school student. So what he was able to eventually send his offender was about a hundred dollars in gift card even after that money was sent. This offender continued to harass this kid and continue to message him over Instagram and this is how the conversation started.

So if you’re wondering like, how does someone fall prey to that? How do they, you know, fall for that at all? It starts off very average and mundane. These offenders aren’t just jumping in and saying, You know, send me all your money, otherwise I’m gonna leak your photos because any kids can be like, well, I’ve never talked to you before. How do you have these pictures? And so on.

So with sextortion, how we’re handling it is that we are taking the advocate approach. We’re not blaming these kids for making a mistake. Because I know that they are very aware that they messed up big time because these offenders are telling them so for us we’re trying to take that approach of, we can help you, we can fix this. We don’t emphasize continuing to talk to the offender because they really haven’t responded in any way that is beneficial. These offenders continue to message, saying they don’t care. They want money, they don’t care who they’re talking to what happens to them, and so on.

We emphasize screenshotting messages except the photos, obviously screenshotting the offenders profile page, gathering as much information as possible, and then using that info to then submit your your tip or your report. So if you’re doing it through the National Center, this is the website that they have the reporting system on. It’s the really cool thing about this system is that it’s an international reporting system. So let’s say that I make a report in Ohio, because my child is being exploited online. That same account that is referenced in my report can be used all across the country by any ICAC they can use it to see if there’s other cyber tips or other cases that have involved those accounts, other incidents, and so on. So for us it’s very beneficial to go through this. This is just another example by documenting an incident. It’s very similar to documenting a case of sextortion, and that just document everything and send in a cyber tip.

Alright thank you all so much. I know that was a lot of information thrown at you in a very short amount of time.

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