TAMPA, Fla. — Advocates are highlighting the need for parents and kids to learn the warning signs of online solicitation after investigators say a principal sent sexually explicit texts to an undercover detective he thought was a teen.
According to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, the principal started a text conversation on a social media app with undercover detectives, and over the course of the investigation, they said the principal attempted to entice the undercover detectives he believed was a teenager to engage in sexual acts.
“We’re appalled that somebody in a position of power over children can abuse their power in this way. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon. It’s happening more and more,” said Stacey Efaw, the Executive Director with Selah Freedom.
Selah Freedom is a nonprofit anti-human trafficking organization. The organization explains one in nine children receive online sexual solicitation. It said the root of the problem is one out of every three girls and one out of every five boys in America are sexually abused, explaining this leads to the potential of solicitation into human trafficking.
“Often, we find the perpetrators were the person you never thought they would ever do that,” said Efaw. “They tend to build themselves up in the community to make it to where people will trust them automatically.”
“Especially with youth spending so much time online, that’s kind of the main way nowadays that exploiters, traffickers look to reach children,” said Mia Braddock, a prevention advocate.
With what families should look for, Efaw explains often, it’s not a vicious attack online, but a slow friendship that develops. Advocates explain being involved and communicating are also key.
“Some parents may think that, well I don’t allow my kid to have Facebook or Instagram, or I have the passwords and I’m checking the messages, but the truth is any platform where there’s a chat feature, that is where the predators are. It could be just a game,” said Braddock.
Braddock also said to be aware of who you’re talking to, don’t accept messages from people you don’t know, and don’t put personal information online, big or small.
“Have somebody in your life that you feel is safe enough to say, ‘Hey, I kind of got this message from this person, and it made me feel kind of uncomfortable. What do you think I should do from here?'” said Braddock.
Selah Freedom has two trainings coming up this month, as well as many resources available online. If you need help, you can reach help at their hotline, 1-888-8-FREE-ME.