While expecting her first baby, Redmond mom Sarah Fong assumed that she would one day post precious photos of her child on Facebook and Instagram just like everyone else in her social network. But after her daughter arrived, Fong reconsidered. A number of family members were randomly sharing photos of other relatives’ children on social media without permission. She realized that once you post a photo online, you lose control over it. “I didn’t want some weird creeper using her picture for lewd and salacious acts,” says Fong.
Her concerns may sound paranoid to some, but they aren’t unfounded. On any given day, over 17,000 devices in Washington state are being used by predators to trade images of children. The Child Rescue Coalition (CRC), a nonprofit organization that tracks over one million unique pre-pubescent abuse image and video files traded on the Internet every day, reports that child predators actively seek out popular hashtags such as #bathtime, #pottytraining, #nakedkids and #toddlerbikini to find photos of children in states of undress. Unfortunately, with the rise of the internet, pedophiles are now able to easily trade photos, tips and techniques on how to seduce and lure children into sexual encounters. A secondary consequence of this horrifying anonymous social sharing is that it gives the offenders the mistaken impression that this behavior is normal and therefore acceptable.
“The demographic of the child predator has shifted from the creepy old man in the basement to young men between the ages of 17 and 36 years old,” says SPD Internet Crime Against Children Task Force Commander Mike Edwards. “Often these men are married or in a relationship and have professional careers.”