May 4, 2020: In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s easy to lose sight of possible harm to children from predators using this time of crisis to groom children online for exploitation and trafficking. The New Jersey Coalition Against Human Trafficking (NJCAHT) is encouraging families to have important conversations with their children about online safety when they play games or use apps, since increased screen time makes children more susceptible to predators. The FBI has warned that “children who are home from school and spending more time online may be at increased risk for exploitation”. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children says it has recorded a 106% increase in CyberTipline reports of suspected child sexual exploitation during the first month of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Predators and traffickers use subtle methods to groom children for exploitation and future trafficking. Grooming can start out with “likes” on social media, and move to buying children gaming dollars or offering support and encouragement. When a child’s trust is gained, the exploitation begins. 

The NJCAHT hosted a virtual training on Trafficking and Exploitation on Apps and the Dark Web on April 23, 2020; available now on their website along with other anti-grooming resources during COVID-19. Over 250 participants from multiple states joined to listen to the presentation by Lt. John Pizzuro of the New Jersey State Police’s Internet Crimes Against Children Unit, and Jeffrey Anthony, Health Educator from the Middlesex County Center for Empowerment. Lt. Pizzuro warned that: “The increase of online screen time, lack of social relationships due to social distancing leaves children vulnerable to grooming and providing Child Sexual Assault Material.” Lt. Pizzuro shared that one in five children have been sexually solicited online and 14% have actually met face to face with someone they met online.

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Families are urged to have immediate conversations with their children about those they might be connecting with online; monitor children’ use of apps and games; and help them to recognize and end uncomfortable interactions. “Parents need to foster an environment of trust,” says Kate Lee, the Executive Director of the NJCAHT, “Predators use shame as a tool to further manipulate children, so parents need to be supportive if their child shares any uncomfortable interactions they may have experienced, which will help to stop predators manipulating their child still further.” 

The New Jersey Coalition Against Human Trafficking is a nonprofit made up of over 180 organizations in New Jersey, with a mission to unite NJ communities to abolish human trafficking. To report child exploitation go to


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