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Internet exploitation of children is on the rise

(Stock Photo) The number of children being exploited on the internet is on the rise and they are getting younger.

SALT LAKE CITY — Sexual exploitation of children is on the rise.

In some cases, children as young as 9 are being trapped by online predators who can find and target kids in seemingly innocent places.

That’s what Michelle Busch-Upwall from The Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force told KSL Newsradio reporter Paul Nelson.

Public safety experts in Utah say there’s a troubling trend online where the number of victims of online sexual exploitation is growing and the victims are getting younger.

Busch-Upwall explained that even if parents are keeping an eye on their kid’s online activity and their social media profiles, they frequently don’t understand the apps the same way that the kids do, which can lead kids into situations that they aren’t equipped to deal with.

“Even if they have their parents on their Instagram account, they have a second or third or fourth Instagram account for their friends or others that their parents don’t know normally know about,” she said.

Predators can find children anywhere they are online. If they meet on an online game, for example, the predator will direct the children towards another app where they can have a private, and usually anonymous, conversation.

Busch-Upwall says that Snapchat is a popular app because many people believe the pictures will just vanish, but the app KIK is another popular place as well because it’s anonymous.

“Kik is located in Canada, and predators know that it’s tough for law enforcement to get information,” she said.

Just last month, a Provo man was charged with 34 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, 3 counts of enticing a minor and other charges that add up to 43 felonies.

The charging documents say that 31-year-old Alan Hiatt is accused of being involved in exploiting at least five girls between the ages of 12 and 15 in at least five states, including Utah.

The charging documents say that throughout the conversations,  Hiatt consistently referred to himself as ‘Daddy.’ They accuse him of coercing “nude photos from several underaged girls through Facebook.”

Police also say he is accused of turning violent, threatening some of the girls that he would come and rape or hurt them, and in one instance encouraging a girl to kill herself.

His next court hearing is scheduled for April 11.

A few internet safety resources that can help you and your family stay safe online can be found below.

Parents

Microsoft Online Safety – Guides for protecting your online information and common myths about the dangers of the internet.

Common Sense Media – age-based ratings and reviews for movies, games, apps, TV shows, books, and music.

ConnectSafely – Non-profit with guides for parents and teachers as well as tips and advice about cyberbullying, sexting and tech addictions.