Parents need to be vigilant in monitoring their children's use of the Internet to make sure the youths are not putting themselves in personal and legal jeopardy by posting nude "selfies" and other inappropriate photos of themselves, Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell said Sunday in an open letter posted online.
"Let me be clear," McDonnell says in the letter posted on Facebook, "these images NEVER disappear. They are forever present on the internet, viewed and traded like baseball cards by child molesters, predators, and extortionists, many of whom re-post these nude images on file sharing sites, exponentially exposing these inappropriate and illegal images of a young girl or boy. Afterward, our young victims often fall into deep depression and have suicidal feelings which stay with them for a lifetime."
The letter follows a news conference the sheriff's department held last week, at which it released information on the "horrific nature" and number of human trafficking cases involving children and young teens taking nude photos of themselves and sending them over the Internet.
In 2015, the sheriff's department's Human Trafficking Bureau and the Los Angeles Regional Task Force on Human Trafficking investigated 519 cases that involved nude photos of girls and boys as young as 8 years old, McDonnell said. So far in 2016 the bureau's detectives have investigated 81 cases involving nude and compromising photographs and videos of children and teens on the Internet, he said.
"All too often," McDonnell says in the letter, "these images end up on the internet or in the hands of child predators, some of whom actually make contact with these children with specific intent of luring them into a relationship, extorting them for additional photos and videos, or in some cases, even money. These cases slice across all socio-economic and racial lines."
McDonnell encouraged parents to learn more by contacting the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, the Los Angeles Regional Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, or the Human Trafficking Bureau’s Sexual Assault Felony Enforcement (SAFE) team at (323) 526-5156.
The SAFE team can assist families with issues resulting from a child already engaging in this conduct, McDonnell said.
"Our youth need public figures and parents to work together and provide information to our families about the high-risk consequences of inappropriate photo sharing," McDonnell says in the letter. "We need and want to partner with high-profile individuals whose form of self-expression is not blatantly a form of commerce, but a demonstration of the importance of setting goals and teaching our children, but especially our girls, that they have more to offer than just their bodies."