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Online child exploitation reports in Alberta more than doubled in March amid COVID-19 pandemic

Edmonton Journal logo Edmonton Journal 2020-04-21 Lauren Boothby
a close up of a laptop: File photo: Reports of online child luring were more than twice the monthly average in the month of March. ALERT attributes this to the COVID-19 pandemic. © Luke Hendry File photo: Reports of online child luring were more than twice the monthly average in the month of March. ALERT attributes this to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reports of online child exploitation reached a record high in Alberta last month and are expected to continue climbing in April, the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team said Tuesday.

ALERT attributes the boost to more people spending time online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The internet child exploitation (ICE) unit received 243 reports of exploitation in March, more than double the two-year monthly average of around 110 per month.

“With children being home from school, not only are they spending more time online, but it appears that so are the predators. And they are looking to take advantage of our most vulnerable population: our kids,” Supt. Dwayne Lakusta, ALERT CEO said in a Tuesday news release.

“As a parent myself, I have recently noticed some concerning online behaviour and have had to be even more diligent in monitoring what apps my child is using and who they are engaging with. All parents need to be vigilant of their kids’ online activities.”

In the first three months of 2020, 21 people were arrested and 61 charges were laid. Four children were rescued from exploitation, abuse and online child luring, ALERT says.

The Canadian Centre for Child Protection is working with ICE to warn parents about how to keep their children safe online.

“During these unprecedented times and higher than usual online connectivity, it is essential that we work together to educate the public on the risks and ways to reduce harm to children while online,” said Signy Arnason, associate executive director the centre.

“Cybertip.ca has seen an increase in reporting involving offenders attempting to lure and sextort children through various chat and live streaming platforms. Now more than ever, parents/guardians must be vigilant in knowing who their children are connecting with online.”

Most referrals last month came from the RCMP’s National Child Exploitation Coordination Centre, which tracks and investigates online child exploitation with the help of social media and internet providers.

Anyone with information about online child exploitation can contact police at cybertip.ca.

lboothby@postmedia.com

@laurby

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