BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – On National Missing Children’s Day, U.S. Attorney Prim Escalona and Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp, Jr. share tips on how to keep children safe both in the online and offline worlds. President Ronald Reagan proclaimed May 25, 1983, the first National Missing Children’s Day in memory of Etan Patz, a 6-year-old boy who disappeared from a New York City street corner on May 25, 1979. National Missing Children’s Day is dedicated to encouraging parents, guardians, caregivers, and others concerned with the well-being of children to make child safety a priority.
“As a parent of young children, I am concerned about providing a safe environment for children. As the U.S. Attorney, I also realize that there are predators who work overtime to take advantage of children’s vulnerabilities,” U.S. Attorney Escalona said. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office will do our part to prosecute those who victimize our children, and we urge parents and caregivers to do their part through education and awareness.”
“It’s an unfortunate reality that every year, thousands of children become victims of crime, whether through kidnappings, violent attacks, sexual abuse, or online predators,” SAC Sharp said. “While I want to encourage parents to stay vigilant in protecting their children, the citizens of North Alabama can rest assured knowing that the FBI and our law enforcement partners will continue to aggressively pursue those who would take advantage of our most vulnerable population.”
As the school year draws to a close, many parents are planning for their children’s summer activities. Whether a child is spending the summer at home with parents, or away from home at a summer program, the following safety tips will help ensure that children are being cared for under the watchful eyes of trusted and vetted adults.
- Know your childcare providers. Choose babysitters, nannies, and tutors with care. Obtain references from family, friends, and neighbors. Observe the interaction with your children and ask your children how they feel about your childcare provider. Do background screening and reference checks.
- Check out camps and summer programs before enrolling your children. Ask if a background screening check is completed on the individuals working with the children. Talk to your children about safety and encourage them to tell you or another trusted adult if anyone or anything makes them feel sad, scared, or confused. Teach them it is okay to tell you what happened, and they will not be “tattletales” for telling.
Another thing to be mindful of is online safety. During the summer, children will have an increased online presence. The following safety tips will help educate parents and prevent children from becoming victims of child predators and sexual exploitation.
The most important advice for parents is to have open and ongoing conversations about safe and appropriate online behavior. Other advice to consider:
- Educate yourself about the websites, software, games, and apps that your children use.
- Check their social media and gaming profiles and posts. Make sure they use privacy settings to restrict access to their online profiles.
- Monitor your children’s use of the Internet; keep electronic devices in an open, common room of the house.
- Explain to your kids that once images or comments are posted online, they can be shared with anyone and never truly disappear.
- Make sure children know that anyone who asks a child to engage in sexually explicit activity online should be reported to a parent, guardian, or other trusted adult and law enforcement.
- Make it a rule with your kids that they can’t arrange to meet up with someone they met online without your knowledge and supervision.
- The FBI has seen a huge increase in the number of cases involving children and teens being threatened and coerced by adults into sending explicit images online—a crime called sextortion. For more information visit https://www.fbi.gov/scams-and-safety/common-scams-and-crimes/sextortion.
Child Exploitation is a serious federal crime, carrying severe federal penalties. Some cases carry a maximum sentence of life in prison. The U.S. Attorney’s Office has prosecuted and continues to prosecute child exploitation cases in the Northern District of Alabama.
To help in child abduction recoveries, the FBI has developed the Child ID app, which provides an effective way for parents and guardians to keep their child’s pictures and information on hand in case he or she goes missing. The app also includes safety tips for parents to help keep their kids out of harm’s way. The app is free, and, in the event a child goes missing, parents and guardians can quickly e-mail the photos and information to authorities. No information about you or your child will be collected or stored by the FBI. To download the Child ID app, go to iTunes Apps Store on your iPhone or Play Store on your Android phone.
For more information on the FBI’s guidance on child exploitation and protecting your kids visit https://www.fbi.gov/scams-and-safety/protecting-your-kids.
If you suspect or become aware of possible sexual exploitation of a child, please contact law enforcement. To alert the FBI Birmingham Office, call 205-326-6166. Reports can also be filed with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) or online at www.cybertipline.org.