Along with April showers, this month also brings Sexual Assault Awareness Month, or SAAM. SAAM is a month-long awareness event that consists of prevention and advocacy work for sexual assault victims. This year’s theme for Sexual Assault Awareness Month is “we can build safe online spaces”. With the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as rapid technological advancements, people are using online platforms more than ever, especially children. Many children are attending school online, using things like Zoom or Google Classroom. They also likely have one or more social media platform that they use. Ultimately, kids are spending almost all day online. You may be wondering: What does sexual assault have to do with online platforms? The answer: Sexual assault comes in many forms and can happen online. In recent years, researchers have become aware of just how much this can happen in online spaces. It is important to recognize that things like sextortion and revenge porn can and do happen in online capacities. Because of this, it is so important, now more than ever, to teach your children about safe practices when using any online platform. Children should have these skills regardless of concerns about sexual assault. With the profound shift of life to online platforms, it is important to learn these skills as children.
Something that is very important to note is that sexual offenders target children on social media platforms, videogames, or apps used for chatting. They may ask a child for sexual content or may send a child content. This is a very scary thought because you cannot see or know who is behind the screen, and it happens in your own home. However, educating yourself and your children is crucial in preventing this from happening. Therefore, it is important to know about grooming. Grooming is a way sexual predators see what they can and cannot get away with when it comes to boundaries and exploiting trust. This process involves manipulating a person’s trust by making it seem like inappropriate behavior is not a big deal. Again, this is a terrifying thought. However, there are red flags that pop up that you can educate your children about. Some of these red flags include:
- if the perpetrator asks a child to keep their relationship a secret
- They make sexual comments
- They ask about previous sexual history
- Send porn
- Ask to only communicate via a specific platform
- Ask the child to close the door when speaking to them
- Telling the child they will only continue to talk with them if they send them sexual content
- Asking to see more photos of the child
- Sending the child gifts in games
Other suggestions to help educate your children about online safety is to spend time with your child to model appropriate behavior. It is also a good idea to keep the computer or laptop that your child uses in a common area like the living room so you can monitor what your child is doing. Something else you can do is bookmark your child’s most frequently used websites so that they do not have to search the internet for them. This can avoid accidental web searches that could be inappropriate. If your credit card is hooked up to any websites or games that allow purchase, it is recommended that you frequently check your credit card and phone bills for unfamiliar charges.
It can also be really important to set some general guidelines for your whole family to follow. Set time limits and rules for behavior when using online platforms. It is also important to establish a rule that no one should be sharing or trading personal pictures or private information. Along this line of thinking: it is best to avoid using personal names or information when creating screen names. Another useful rule is to prevent being friends with or following anyone that you do not personally know in real life. It is also very important to teach your children to never agree to meet up with anyone that you meet online without parental approval or adult supervision. Lastly, it is so important to note that if your child does come to you and tells you that they have had an uncomfortable experience with someone online to take is seriously. If your child tells you about one of these experiences, or if you suspect something is going on, you can contact local law enforcement.
These days, it is scary to think about what could possibly happen when using online spaces, especially with the heavy reliance on these platforms with the pandemic. These tips can not only help to prevent sexual assault and harassment but can help your children create and maintain general social boundaries online and in-person. These skills are so important to teach and model for your children so that they can be safe in online spaces.