TRI-CITIES, Wash. — As the disturbing allegations against a Kennewick man become public, local members of the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task force are reminding parents that child exploitation is a problem in every community, including ours.
“We’re not going to discuss who the victims are, but keep in mind these are somebody’s kids,” says Community Safety Specialist Cerise Peck. “Whether they’re local or kids from out of state, our job at ICAC is to educate the community that it’s somebody’s kid and it could be your kid.”
“We can build on that,” Peck says. “Protecting the kids in our community from predators within our community and outside our community.”
She says Snapchat and Instagram are the two most popular ways predators talk to potential victims.
“If you’ve allowed them access to those apps,” she explains. “We need to have a conversation about how that is abused and what that looks like.”
Peck says even if you’re monitoring content and phone usage, nothing is foolproof.
She says even with strict parental controls, strangers contact children through a constantly changing list of apps already on their phone.
“Regardless of your firewall,” she says. “The capability is there because kids can always go around what you’ve set up.”
The expert says even Fortnite and Minecraft allow users to communicate with the outside world.
“Not every child is going to be forthcoming with who they’re talking to, or the information that they’re sharing,” she explains. “Parents need to be vigilant about knowing what their kids are doing, and having the conversation about what a predator is.”
That’s why she wants parents talking with their kids about who isn’t appropriate to talk to online.
“I’m not trying to scare somebody and say, ‘Don’t give them these privileges’,” Peck sighs. “But certainly if it’s something you’re going to give your child, you have to know what’s happening. You have to know how [each] app is abused, and you have to educate yourself. Don’t just hand them this portal to the outside world and not follow up.”
Peck says it’s vital parents know the dangers and she wants to help.
“We’re willing to aid any agency with education,” she says. “The more parents we tell, the safer our kids are going to be.”