MACON, Ga. — With more children using the internet during the COVID-19 quarantine, law enforcement says more online predators are also working at home.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) says cyber tips about sexual exploitation of kids have increased 106 percent in the last year.
According to a Georgia Bureau of Investigation, NCMEC reports that cyber tip numbers have consistently and markedly risen every year.
While this new surge in cyber tips has not been confirmed to be as a direct result of the COVID-19 quarantine and children being online more, it is certainly believed to be a factor by those heavily involved in this mission.
The GBI says last year, they received an average of about 600 child exploitation cyber tips a month.
In April of this year, they received nearly 1,400, which could be the result of millions of kids using the internet for online learning and entertainment while schools are closed.
Michael and Mary Burns have three young kids who are constantly plugged in.
"We try to make them go outside, but each of them will slowly slip back inside when we're not paying attention and get back on their computer or phone or iPad," says Michael.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Burns trio is using the internet to turn in school assignments, watch movies, and play games, but Debbi Garner with the GBI's Child Exploitation and Computer Crimes unit says the internet has a dark, negative side, too.
"Kids are home more. Kids are online more. Predators know this," says Garner.
Garner says the GBI task force that leads investigations on internet crimes against Georgia children reports that they've made 49 arrests statewide over the past two months and rescued 8 children who were being sexually abused.
Garner says most of the cyber tips come from online service providers like Facebook and Google.
The Burns family says their kids are still too young and too vulnerable to have their own social media accounts like Facebook and Twitter, but Michael and Mary are using a series of apps to monitor what sites their kids are visiting, what they're watching, and who they're talking to.
"One of them controls the particular website they can go to and even filters some of the particular videos that they can go to on YouTube. It blocks all social media and puts them on a time limit, so they have a certain time of day they can be on it, and at a certain point, it locks them out," says Michael.
Garner says in Georgia, the average sentence of someone convicted on child pornography charges is 3 to 6 years in prison.
If you suspect or have information about possible abuse or exploitation of a child, you can call your local law enforcement agency. Or call The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST.
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