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Published: September 16, 2020


FROM THE DESK OF COUNTY EXECUTIVE T.R. WILLIAMS

Knowledge: difficult but powerful

Last week I spent some time with Kid’s Place Director Brandi Burdette to talk about renewed attention being paid to child exploitation, child sex trafficking, and the internet. Are these problems getting worse? What can we do to protect our children?

Kid’s Place is a 22-year-old agency that serves child victims of physical and sexual abuse in Lawrence, Wayne, Giles and Maury counties. It provides free services including forensic interviews, physical exams, and counseling that continues as long as victims need it. By making us aware of these issues, Kid’s Place gives us permission to talk about them and find solutions.

Publicity about sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein has created a new level of awareness worldwide, Brandi said. The problems are also worse because offenders constantly find new ways to use the internet to commit crimes against minors. Knowing this, however, puts power in the hands of adults who care about children.

“It’s important to become educated about what’s happening,” she said. “The increased awareness is great, but we also have to be careful not to sensationalize or share information about sensitive information we might know about personally or see on social media.”

“Don’t share” is the most important rule. If you see an offensive image or anything that identifies a child victim, you should report it to the platform (Facebook, etc.) and law enforcement. Sharing names, faces, or any identifying information can further perpetuate trauma. Instead of using a child’s name in hashtags or social media posts, use child protection hashtags such as #NoExuseForChildAbuse #EndChildAbuse. Our best response is to call local law enforcement or department of children’s services if it’s a local situation; otherwise report to cybertipline.com or call 1-800-843-5678.

“At Kid’s Place we see first-hand how outrageous and offensive the thought of any form of child abuse is.” If you are tempted to share images online, Brandi suggests using that energy to call a friend to discuss the realities around child abuse and get involved with an agency who serves child abuse victims like Kid’s Place to learn how you can help. The range of services offered to children and families means there’s always work to be done.

She also has advice about protection from online predators. Parents must be involved in their children’s online experience. With the online culture evolving, now more than ever children are being solicited for sexual images and videos. When images and videos are shared, they become child pornography. “Don’t take for granted your children know better,” Brandi stated. Adults must ensure there are restrictions in place to protect kids. It’s important to have an ongoing conversation regarding online safety.

Thankfully, there are people working just as hard against online predators. Bark Technologies https://www.bark.us helps families manage and protect their children’s online lives. They monitor 30+ of the most popular apps and social media platforms, including text messaging and email, for signs of digital dangers. Their screen time management and web filtering tools help you set healthy limits around how and when your kids use their devices. For more information, Bark Technologies can be found on any social media platform.
Be Best https://www.whitehouse.gov/bebest/ is an initiative by First Lady, Melania Trump that attacks online threats on multiple fronts. The Monique Burr Foundation https://www.mbfpreventioneducation.org/ offers online education for kids from kindergarten up and youth-serving organizations. THORN https://www.thorn.org/, founded by Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher, develops tools that help law enforcement identify and rescue sex trafficking victims faster; keep offensive material off social media; and empower children and caregivers. Other companies have developed apps that can monitor any device for threats.

“As your local child abuse agency, we want our community to know that we work closely with local law enforcement, Department of Children’s Services, the District Attorney General’s Office, TBI, FBI, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) combatting the issues facing our children. We are committed to preventing, stopping, and treating child abuse.

“I encourage everyone to take a look at the websites listed and learn what you can do to protect our children,” Brandi said. “It’s good for us all to know the threats that are out there, and do whatever we can do to eliminate them. It’s a difficult thing to acknowledge because we don’t want to think about the terrible issues facing our kids. We just have to remember that knowledge is power and together we can make a difference in the lives of our children.”