Today is Easter Sunday, a day that traditionally fills church pews with the faithful and banquet tables surrounded by families and friends.
It’s also a day when children wake up to find their Easter baskets filled with candy and other goodies. During the pandemic, parents and grandparents are finding creative ways to help kids enjoy Easter egg hunts in nontraditional, social distancing-necessitated ways today.
While there is much good to be celebrated during the coronavirus pandemic — communities coming together, frontline workers placing themselves in harm’s way, generous neighbors and friends helping the vulnerable, the culmination of the liturgical year as Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ — there is an especially pernicious contagion we all need to be aware of.
Even as innocent children joyfully hunt Easter eggs — virtually on the worldwide web, riding through their neighborhoods or scurrying around their own backyards — online predators are hunting down vulnerable kids.
As if COVID-19 weren’t enough cause for concern and extra vigilance, the Talbot County Sheriff’s Office issued this warning on their Facebook page on April 9:
“We have had a influx of child exploitation cases in the last few weeks. Please take a moment and educate yourself on what social media apps your child/children have. Offenders are going onto social media apps (Snapchat, Facebook, TicTok, Instagram) and friend requesting children. Once the friendship is made they begin to build trust with the children. They will then begin to asking for more personal information, inappropriate photographs (child porn) and may even (ask) to meet in person.
“Other offenders may make casual contact with children online, gain their trust, and introduce sexual conversation that increases in egregiousness over time. Ultimately this activity may result in maintaining an online relationship that includes sexual conversation and the exchange of illicit images, to eventually physically meeting the child in-person.
“Please see the attached FBI notice for more safety tips. If you feel your child has fallen victim to child exploitation, please contact us immediately to start an investigation.”
We, too, encourage parents, grandparents, guardians and caretakers to visit the Talbot County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page and click on the links to the FBI site.
Or visit the FBI site directly at https://www.fbi.gov/scams-and-safety and click on “About Protecting Your Kids.”
On the same site, you can read “School Closings Due to COVID-19 Present Potential for Increased Risk of Child Exploitation” by typing school closings in the search window.
There are hardly words strong enough to condemn this kind of virulent exploitation. It’s one more thing to worry about these days. But we can turn our concern into increased vigilance and defend our kids against predators. We applaud the our local law enforcement leaders for sounding the alarm — we know they are already under a great deal of stress during this pandemic.
Sadly, as we all cocoon during these unprecedented days, predators know no boundaries. It’s up to all of us to protect our kids from these wolves of the internet.