For National Child Abuse Prevention Month, the Malouf Foundation has partnered with Jason Weis for a free online safety training for parents to help protect their children from online predators.
Jason has been fighting sex trafficking for over 10 years. He’s consulted with multiple government agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and his work as a detective led to the arrests and convictions of sex offenders.
During a recent interview, Jason gave insight on how online predators are targeting children and what parents can expect to learn during this hands-on, interactive workshop.
You co-founded The Demand Project to fight child sex trafficking and exploitation. What inspired you to get involved with this cause and start this non-profit organization?
Jason Weis: Fourteen years ago, my wife and I watched a news story that shook us to our core. It was about a father who had filmed himself raping his 2-year-old daughter. Then he posted the video on the Internet for the world to see. It was one of those fist-clenching moments where we couldn’t have a normal life after that. My wife and I knew we were called to fight sexual exploitation of children.
Once we began to understand the problem, we started to understand just how big the problem is. We are truly in a time of epidemic proportions when it comes to child abuse. That’s what really inspired us to get involved with this cause and what continues to fuel us—that continuous need to go after the bad guys, educate parents and law enforcement, and network with each other to fight this problem.
Later this month, you will teach our community how to protect children from online predators. Why should parents attend this workshop?
Jason Weis: There’s a huge disconnect between parents and children when it comes to social media and technology because it’s changing all the time. It’s important to know what platforms they’re using to communicate. And if you have no idea what they’re talking about, you’re not going to be relevant to your child. They could be giving you indicators that they need help, and it will just go over your head.
This workshop is for anyone 18 years and older. Even if someone isn’t a parent, what can they take away from this training?
Jason Weis: If you’re not a parent, then you probably know kids. You might be a teacher, or you might be a counselor. If you’re in a position where you’re around kids, you will get something from this workshop. And no matter your profession, there’s continuing education you have to do every year to stay relevant in the workplace. This workshop needs to be your new continuing education. You have to stay on top of this issue because social media isn’t going anywhere, and the features are changing all the time.
According to thedemandproject.org, approximately 300,000 American youth are at risk of becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation. How has social media and technology influenced this number?
Jason Weis: Social media gives kids “tech courage.” It gives them a voice that they didn’t necessarily have before. Predators are more efficient now with all these social media platforms and livestreaming apps. For example, instead of a predator going to a school and grooming one or two kids, they can set up a profile on social media and groom 20 to 30 children at a time. Grooming is the No. 1 tactic that predators use to gain access to children. It’s a way to gain trust and build a relationship—without parents knowing about it. It has to be very secretive; otherwise, the process can’t continue.
During the workshop, you will demonstrate how online predators use mobile apps to target children. Name one or two of these apps and how they’re used to lure children.
Jason Weis: Kik and Whisper are two extremely dangerous apps. Predators know that kids are using them for experimentation, sexting, and other things parents don’t approve. Online predators capitalize on lack of parent knowledge and lack of law enforcement resources.
Outside of these two apps, I’m really concerned about livestreaming. This is where kids use various platforms to broadcast from their bathroom, bedroom, classroom, or wherever, and all they want is attention and affirmation. While livestreaming, kids are sharing their personal information, and it’s only a matter of time before they give out their social media handles.
TikTok is a livestreaming platform that’s really concerning because kids are using their real names. You can see their name and find their Facebook page. This creates a whole new level of efficiency for online predators because kids are broadcasting in real time and sharing information with someone who could have bad intentions.
As part of this training, you will teach parents how to talk to their children about sexting and predator tactics. How important is open communication between a parent and child?
Jason Weis: It’s critical. If you don’t have that open communication with your child, then a predator is going to make sure your child doesn’t say anything because they are master manipulators. They will coach your child on what to say, what not to say, how to hide text messages, and how to hide apps.
As parents, we need to have those hard conversations with our children, or else they’re going to learn these things somewhere else. We need to openly communicate with our kids because it’s life or death in many cases. There’s a stealing of innocence going on out there, and if you’re not communicating with your child, someone is going to steal that to some degree.
When a parent believes their child is being targeted by an online predator, what’s the first thing they should do?
Jason Weis: When this happens, don’t share the offender’s profile on social media or with your friends. Don’t try to make someone famous, thinking you’ll get them arrested. That’s not going to happen. Online predators will delete their profile and create another one somewhere else. Instead, call law enforcement immediately and take screenshots of the offender’s profile. You need to have evidence or else it never happened.
Join the Facebook event here. People under 18 years of age are not allowed to attend this event.