The child abduction scare has literally left our parenting community reeling and, to be honest, the frantic (false) voice notes and Facebook shares are not really helping us at all. As I’ve said before, I’m all for REAL news and information, but when you start spreading mass hysteria, you’re kinda not allowing people to make informed decisions. As a blogger I’ve been so aware recently with regards to the type of information I share about my kids online. Should I be sharing my kid’s photos on social media? It is with these questions in mind that I contacted three legit organizations – namely A21, STOP Human Trafficking and Missing Children SA – to find out what I should be doing to safeguard my children, online, against child abduction. They’ve given me some really great information with regards to human trafficking and social media.
Missing Children SA
Missing Children SA assists our SA Police Service in finding people that have been snatched, and strives to create a national awareness around abduction. One of the things I learnt through the org is that the first 24 hours after a person goes missing, is the most crucial. There is NO TIME to sit around and hope that they’ll pop up somewhere!
Bianca of Missing Children SA agrees that Facebook is a dangerous platform since predators use these social sites to follow your routine. When posting to social media, avoid tagging your location or even where you’re going to, with your child. She says that posting photos of children could potentially put your child in danger, so make sure that your privacy settings are set in a way that only friends and family can see your posts. Make sure that you know everyone on your friend list! This includes Instagram! Block the weirdos. Having a great Insta following is not as important as potentially having a perv oogle at pics of your family. Bianca also recommends that you keep your under 18 away from social media. They don’t understand the potential dangers of it yet.
A21 is probably one of the most well known nonprofit organizations fighting against human trafficking. The organization has one mandate: to free slaves and those kept in captivity, from bondage.
I chatted with a representative from the org who explained that perpetrators sell online social media images online or use it to recruit children. She stressed, however, that abduction does not necessarily lead to human trafficking – children can be abducted for other crimes. “We have seen the past two years, through the Resource Line, that with the recruitment method, abduction was only 2% and false job opportunities stood at 62%. We are not ignoring the fact that children are being abducted, but we need to public to report it to the correct departments in order to take action,” she explained.
A21 hosts the National Human Trafficking Resource Line (0800 222 777) but you’re also able to contact the following organizations who assist with missing children, should you have a query or question: Childline, Missing Persons, Pink Ladies.
STOP (Stop Trafficking Of People)
Another non-profit, aimed at combatting all aspects of human trafficking within South Africa and Africa, is STOP (Stop Trafficking of People). The org aims to combat abduction and human trafficking through advocacy, raising awareness and victim support.
Bertha Bresler of STOP shared such good information with me and really helped me to put things into perspective, when it comes to my child and social media. For starters, she reiterated what the rest of the ladies shared: it can be dangerous to upload pics of your child onto social media. Bertha says: “The thing is when someone is looking to exploit another human being they would look for different things that a normal person might not notice. So to me a picture of a baby is a picture of a baby it’s cute and that’s that. But to someone with ulterior motives, it becomes a “treasure hunt”. They would look at the background for clues, like landmarks. They look for logos that would give away where the child goes to school or where they play sport, even the malls they hang out at.”
Bertha mentioned the growing trend where parents hashtag their child’s whole name (freaky guys, I did this!) So basically we’re giving a stranger your child’s face and complete name, thus creating a false sense of familiarity, should the person meet your child in public. “Putting your kids name on the outside of their backpack is also a no-no,” says Bertha.
“When you put a picture of yourself, or your child on the internet you don’t really know what happens to it after that. And even if you do delete it it’s still on the internet, it’s basically impossible to erase something from the internet. People can save it or screenshot it and they can do with it whatever they want. There have also been cases that we have heard of where pedophiles have taken pictures that people have posted of their babies and/or kids and photoshopped it – turning it into a pornographic image.”
Some more tips from STOP:
1. Consider replacing any personalized items like rucksacks, lunch boxes and other items that visibly show off your child’s name to people they don’t know.
2. Make up a family code word. If you’ve sent someone to pick up your child – they should be aware of what the code word is so they’ll know not to leave with anyone else. Or if your child is at a friend’s house and somebody or something is making them feel unsafe, they can call you and say the code word to you over the phone so you’ll know to get them out of the situation.
3. Say no to body secrets. When a child is sexually abused, they can often be told not to tell their parents about what has happened to them, and to keep it a secret between them and the abuser. Teaching your children to never keep ‘body secrets’ is important and they should know to tell you immediately if somebody has touched a part of their body and asked them to hide it from you.
4. Tell your child that if they are being followed or chased by somebody, to start running in the opposite direction to the car. This will buy them a few crucial moments as the car turns around.
5. If your child is feeling lost or unsafe, there is no guarantee that there will be a friendly shop owner or police officer around to help. Tell them to find a mother with kids if they are in danger or alone.
6. We often pass children having tantrums in adult’s arms. In fact, we’ve seen it so many times, a lot of us have become immune to it. Teach your child to scream out words that would alarm others can be very useful if they ever end up in a dangerous situation. Phrases such as ‘Who are you?’, ‘Help!’, ‘Leave me alone, I don’t know you!’ and ‘Where’s my mom and dad?’ will all arouse suspicion and alert others to the danger.
7. If a stranger tries to take them, tell them that all manners are out of the window – and they are allowed to hit, scream and make a scene in order to attract attention.
Right… so that was a lot of information to take in. I know that moms everywhere have formulated their own opinion about this topic, and hey, it’s your kid, do what you feel is best. But I sure am planning to take extra steps towards making sure I’m not putting my kids in a compromised position, on social media. How this will affect my blog… not sure yet! Will I find a way to still share about them, who knows. I don’t have all the answers yet, you guys. But I do know that my babies lives are way more important than a social media following.