Tragic Murder of FBI Agents Reminds us of Sex Crimes Against Children
Kristi House CEO Amanda Altman discusses actions we can take to protect our kids.
A sad reminder that crimes against children are far too prevalent in our society, we recently witnessed the burial of two FBI heroes who were shot and killed while executing a warrant on an alleged child sexual predator. Today, as we find ourselves in an unprecedented global pandemic which is making it harder than ever to keep children safe, it is critically important for our community to step up to join Kristi House’s efforts to end this attack on our society.
The numbers are staggering: FBI statistics reveal that one in every five children logging onto electronic devices will be sexually solicited. As measures to guard against Covid-19 continue to prevent many children from attending school and participating in other group activities, the use of electronic devices such as smartphones, tablets, computers, and other mobile devices has skyrocketed, making all our children more vulnerable to online predators. The safety measures required in the pandemic also have further isolated children, creating fewer opportunities for schoolteachers, daycare workers, and other professionals to recognize and report the common signs of exploitation and abuse.
Making matters exponentially worse, most people want to avoid discussing child sexual exploitation and abuse and do not want to believe that these things are happening right here, to our own children, in our own neighborhoods. The numbers speak for themselves: One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually assaulted before their 18th birthday, and approximately 62% of all human trafficking victims were born and raised in our communities. Read that again!
Kristi House, a nonprofit which is distinguished as Miami-Dade County’s only nationally accredited and state-recognized Children’s Advocacy Center, has rolled out a new roster of services and programming custom-tailored to meet today’s needs. These include virtual therapy, webinars, workshops and other resources.
At this time, our community must work with Kristi House and make a more unified, purpose-driven effort to educate ourselves and our children about these dangers – particularly related to the potential dangers of electronic devices and the correct ways to use them. Each and every one of us – as parents, relatives, neighbors, and friends – have a duty and an obligation to do our part to protect our community’s children by monitoring their use of mobile devices and technology.
Based on my experience, here is some practical guidance:
- Children under 13 should not have social media accounts. Keep a close pulse on their use of computers and make sure they have not set up phony accounts
- Store the usernames and passwords of children who have social media accounts, to enable you to login and monitor communications
- Delete all unnecessary apps on any devices before children receive the devices
- YouTube and other apps should always remain restricted or kids’ modes. It’s simple: Tapping the “settings” menu in most apps enables you to select “restricted” mode. On mobile devices, a variety of inappropriate content may be blocked by checking “Settings,” then “Screen Time,” and select “Content and Privacy Restrictions”
- Keep an eye on children and look for warning signs. What are the warning signs? Often, kids recognize that they are doing something that you wouldn’t approve of, and they will try to hide it from you. So keep an eye on changing behaviors – children wanting to spend more time locked in their rooms on their devices, turning off devices when you enter the room, or becoming withdrawn from family and friends. Other common warning signs include finding pornography on their devices, or children spending large amounts of time online, particularly at night or early in the morning while people are asleep and the kids feel they have more privacy
- Get proactive! Many educators are reporting that students have fallen off the radar in the pandemic. In these cases, take the initiative of calling their parents or guardians, or reporting it to the authorities as appropriate. If you witness unusual behavior in your neighbor’s child, reach out and contact authorities for guidance. It takes a village!
Recognizing that this work is taxing on many levels, including emotionally, Kristi House has compiled resources and created educational content to help people navigate these uncharted waters. With four full-time education and outreach specialists on staff, we are offering webinars for adults and children on topics affecting them in today’s pandemic, ranging from internet safety to human trafficking and exploitation. Additionally, we are providing support for families in the pandemic.
As always, we are continuing to apply our evidence-based therapeutic modalities and other services provided by our case managers and advocates to help children who suffered sexual exploitation or abuse, as well as their families, to heal from that trauma. All the services we provide are free.
Now is the time to act. As a society, we cannot allow the tragic deaths of Special Agents Daniel Alfin and Lauren Schwartzenberger – the two FBI agents who dedicated their lives to stopping child sexual predators – to have been in vain. At this time, we must step it up and work together to continue their legacy of stopping online child sex predators and eradicating child sexual exploitation and abuse.
Amanda G. Altman, Esq., is the CEO of Kristi House, the nationally accredited, state-recognized Children’s Advocacy Center for Miami-Dade County providing therapy, advocacy, and emergency assistance to more than 1,500 sexually exploited and abused children and their families every year. Before joining Kristi House in 2020, Ms. Altman was a shareholder at Fowler White Burnett. Prior to this, she obtained highly valued experience in a variety of roles, including serving as Assistant US Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. She is a former president of the 1,000-member Junior League of Miami, where, among other things, she advocated for transitional housing on behalf of women and children who were victims of domestic violence. She later chaired the Annual Ball for the Red Cross of Greater Miami and the Keys, where she is a board member. Ms. Altman is a graduate of Saint Louis University School of Law. She resides in Aventura with her fiancé David Lynn, and their rescue dogs “Millie” and “Parker.”