Story by Master Sgt. Jefferson Thompson, 173rd Fighter Wing / Public Affairs
The Sexual Assault Prevention and Response office at the 173rd Fighter Wing initiated a new program called Community Connections, which is bringing members of the community and base Airmen together through various events.
These events include a SAPR 5K run, a briefing by the local chapter of the Wounded Warrior Project, and most recently brought two local Oregon State Police Detectives to the base to explain how internet-based crime is affecting local children, Sept. 6, 2019.
“The idea is to help our folks at the base understand all the resources that are available locally, and to get to know the issues facing the Klamath Basin, which affect us too because we are an integral part of it,” said Amber Spotten, the 173rd FW sexual assault prevention, and response coordinator.
This particular visit helped educate parents on the growing danger presented by the internet-based sexual exploitation of young people in the local community.
Detectives Thomas Andreazzi and Kyson Culp took an hour to explain how they are seeing a very rapid expansion of child predators targeting children as young as five through the proliferation of social media applications ranging from Snapchat to Facebook, to more obscure ones like Whisper and Tik Tok.
During the briefing, they were asked if it’s likely any given child would be approached by such a predator.
“It’s highly likely,” said Culp. “Any app with messaging capability is being used by these criminals to reach your children.”
He went on to say that in their investigations even kid-friendly games such as Minecraft have been used to exploit children using the messaging app within the game.
They describe a process where children are approached based on their interests. “If your child is into Disney they might start by talking about princesses, and they will say ‘don’t tell your parents or they might not let us talk anymore,’” says Culp. This lays the groundwork to exploit them under the noses of their parents or guardians, he adds.
For parents of small children it’s distressing news to hear their children may be coached through a process of downloading clandestine apps to circumvent parental safeguards and content filters, many of which are disguised as calculator apps, sexually exploited and possibly even extorted often leading to depression, anxiety and in some cases contributing to suicides, says Culp.
Andreazzi describes one cautionary tale beginning with a female child at the age of seven who was groomed for more than five years before being sexually exploited, saying the main catalyst was the time between coming home from school and being watched by a an unsuspecting grandmother and her mother coming home from work. In that time she was approached and ensnared, a victim of myriad factors including the innocence of youth, the cunning, and guile of an experienced predator and the exponential growth in the potential for cybercrime.
The team offered up a few tips to help mitigate the chances of this happening. First and foremost awareness—understanding the current landscape and realizing that this type of cybercrime is growing.
They caution that children should not be allowed to use devices in their bedroom or away from supervision to keep screen usage in communal areas where they can be monitored.
They recommend time limits, especially at night after the rest of the house is getting ready for bed or is already in bed.
Finally, they say monitoring your kid’s devices to understand what they are doing, who they have been corresponding with, and what kind of content they are viewing is a must and that for many parents there is a learning curve involved with the technology. For this, they say the technology is actually helpful and that a stop at YouTube will provide tutorials on how to monitor devices and your child’s cyber interaction.
For Spotten and her team, it’s an unpleasant reality and she hopes that bringing it to Airmen’s attention can thwart the victimization of service member’s families or even of Airmen themselves—a core charter of the SAPR office.
Plans are already underway to host another meeting where Airmen can bring their kids to help make them aware of the dangers and to arm them with the early warning signs that can save them trauma and heartache.
For more information visit the SAPR website at www.173fw.ang.af.mil/Resources/SAPR/ or on the official 173rd Fighter Wing App under helping professionals.