A London, Ont. family was jarred awake to the sound of door knocking at about 6:45 a.m. last Friday.
Seven police officers were there with a warrant to come in. The kids were still in bed and parents Trevor and Crystal had no idea what was going on.
“They came in and one officer was talking to my husband, while another ran upstairs to the bedroom, asking where my daughter’s room was,” said Crystal.
CBC is withholding the family’s last name because their children’s social media accounts are traceable. What happened next shows just how vulnerable one child had already become.
“[The officer] went directly into my daughter’s room, along with a child interviewer, while we were still trying to process what was going on.”
Naked photos shared through online messages
The serious and chaotic situation at the family home was the result of an online exchange of messages and photos between the 9-year-old daughter and an unknown person on Instagram in late November and early December. Crystal said the photos were flagged by the social media giant and reported to police.
“Somebody online had sent her, and we found this out afterwards, multiple pictures of his penis, and requested her to send back multiple pictures in the poses that he requested,” she said.
The little girl sent multiple naked pictures to the stranger, her mother said.
Investigators had a warrant to collect all electronic devices from the home, which the family handed over.
According to London police, when a social media platform comes across any online material that’s exploitative to children, it’s forwarded to the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children in the United States.
“That centre reviews the report and if it’s determined that the source was from Canada, then they forward the report to the National Exploitation Crime Centre, which is run by the RCMP,” said Const. Sandasha Bough, media officer for the London Police Service.
If the RCMP determine the source was from London, the London police Internet Child Exploitation Unit is notified.
That’s what happened here.
Here’s what parents told daughter about on-line dangers
The harrowing series of events have left the family shaken as police continue to investigate the case.
Crystal says she had talked to her daughter about Internet safety before the incidents occurred and that she should never send photos to strangers, as there are people who can take advantage of her.
“She’s nine. How detailed do you want to get into it with a nine year old about what these predators do,” questioned Crystal. “There’s a certain degree of you wanting to preserve her innocence but at the same time they’re not fully understanding.”
As police continue to investigate the case, the family is now left feeling unsafe in their own home and wondering how the situation is going to affect their daughter in the future.
According to Crystal, there have been no suspects identified in the case.
She hopes that by sharing their story, parents will be aware of how easy it can be for children to become victims of online exploitation.
“Spot check your kids’ phones constantly, do not sugarcoat the dangers of sharing photos and talking to strangers online,” warned Crystal. “The process of trying to preserve your child’s innocence, you could put them in physical danger and that’s where we’re at right now.”
Tips for keeping kids safe online:
- Be aware of exactly what applications or platforms their children are using.
- Know how to use those applications and platforms.
- Check their child’s device(s) and add them to their own phone, along with their child’s account(s).
- Monitor their child’s content and messages.
- Make sure their child feels comfortable coming to them when they receive messages or requests from strangers.
- When children are interacting online, make sure its in a common area, such as the living room and never alone in their bedroom.