24 of My 26 Fifth Graders Have Been Inappropriately Targeted by Strangers Online—What Parents NEED to Know


I asked my [fifth] graders if they’ve ever been approached online by a stranger or someone who seemed inappropriate. Twenty-four out of 26 of them raised their hands with stories that would cause many of us to grab our babies and head for a commune.

One [10]-year-old boy shared that a lady sent him a nude picture on FortNite. Asked if he wanted to have a private chat. The boy next to him said a teenage girl sent him a text and asked if he wanted to smoke pot with her. Or other things. One girl confessed that she has had many older boys message her on an app called Kik. Does she want to hang out IRL (In real life)? These stories went on for an hour. Then, I asked the biggest question hoping the rumors I heard about this next stat were false.

“If you feel comfortable, raise your hand if you have ever been asked to send a nude photo of yourself or had nudes sent to you.” And ever true to the FBI’s current statics, 80 [percent] of my students raised their hands.

I thought for sure these stories would be too much for [10]-year-olds, but the only two who seemed surprised by any of it were the two who don’t have phones. The only two who have not been exposed to these potential predators.

Where is all this taking place? You can read up on my article on what parents need to know about the basics of trafficking here. But it’s time we stop believing this is a [Third] [W]orld country problem — a poor people problem — and start living like we care what happens to our kids.

With child pornography increasing 10,000 [percent] since 2004 (yah that’s the real statistic) there is a good chance your family is affected. Don’t worry! There’s a new bright light emerging.

My circle of folks may be different than yours since I work in education and trafficking prevention, but you’ve likely noticed celebrities wrapped up in this topic. Some not so great, but others are putting their money and time where their mouth is.

Have you heard of Thorn? It’s an organization co-founded by Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore. They have figured out where the crux of child pornography and predators camp out and they’ve become “dedicated to building technology to defend children from sexual abuse…” Sound impossible? Well, they’ve done it. All they need now is for companies who allow online spaces for user-generated materials to buy in.

What’s a user-generated material site? Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, Burn Note, Line, Tinder, Blendr, KiK messenger, Yik Yak, FortNite, Reddit, and Tik Tok (formerly Musical.ly). Incidentally, these are some of the top named sites for sextortion as well. It means users get to post what they want. They simply check a box that they are old enough and safe enough, and then they post what they want until they get caught. And here is the problem. Who is out there catching them? In the past, it’s been no one or only a few people who stumble upon the problem. It’s a short-lived fix because they just change their username, and keep going. But not anymore.

Thorn’s new software Safer “provides a solution to help companies ensure their platforms are not enabling the viral spread of,” child pornography and other abusive content. Not only are they working with law enforcement and Homeland Security, [but they also] work with groups such as Amazon Web Services, Google, Twitter, and Facebook. Thorn is committed to “build[ing] technology to defend children from sexual abuse.” This is music to my ears that have frankly heard too much even within the four walls of my elementary school classroom.

So, what can we do to get Safer into the hands of every online interface? A few things. First, visit your app store and rate these apps and websites that are being used for child sexual abuse. Give them the stars they deserve, sure, but be sure to leave them a note that reminds them they are part of the equation. These app owners have a responsibility to protect our kids, too. Ask them to look into Thorn’s product and care enough to make a difference in this multi-billion-dollar operation. Yes, multi-billion. To the tune of 150 billion dollars a year according to humantraffickingcenter.org.

Second, tell people about this software and what Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore are doing to bring light to families who are victims of child sextortion and abuse. This is as simple as sharing this post or bringing it up in conversation with your friends.

And finally, like every good campaign will tell you GO BUY THE SHIRT. I’ve already purchased two, and I encourage you to do the same. It’s the best $25 you will ever spend.

As a nation, we’ve tried doing nothing. We’ve tried pretending this doesn’t exist. We have even gone so far as to pretend it will never happen to our kids. But the data doesn’t lie. These abusers need to be taken down, and I for one am going to do everything I can to be part of it.

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Shontell Brewer
Shontell Brewer is a wife and mother to her five children, ages 20 to 12. She holds a master’s in divinity with an emphasis in urban ministry. Her most recent project is an arts-integrated prevention curriculum for minors trafficked across the nation. She speaks as a prevention specialist to communities affected by sex trafficking. Find her at ShontellBrewer.com, and on Instagram and Facebook at Shontell Brewer. Her book, Missionary Mom is due fall of 2018.