Collection drive to prevent cyber crimes against kids nets 146 devices

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - A first-of-its-kind event to collect old, unused phones and tablets proved to be far more successful than organizers ever expected.

We first reported in February that Family Services of Green Bay was partnering with local law enforcement to hold a device drive after one of the staff members there learned through experience how easily kids can access strangers on those old phones.

It prompted them to create an event for families to get rid of those devices quickly and easily.

We’re now learning that drive netted 146 smartphones, tablets and old handheld electronic devices in less than two days.

“It went very well,” says Holli Fisher, program manager at the Sexual Assault Center in Green Bay. “We were very pleased with the results of the drive.”

But honestly, Fisher would probably have been happy with even just one device collected knowing it lessened the risk of at least one child being exposed to online danger.

“It aligns with our goal of prevention, of preventing child sexual abuse, and I think when parents are aware of the potential danger, they want to do what they can to protect their children,” explains Fisher.

Through her role at the Sexual Assault Center, Fisher sees first-hand the growing number of children becoming victims of online predators.

Collection drive to prevent cyber crimes against kids nets 146 devices

“We know that most in-person child sexual abuse is from someone known to the child, but as virtual exploitation, it’s strangers on the internet and apps,” says Fisher.

She says parents often have no idea their kids are talking to someone online, until police show up at their door after receiving a tip from places like the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Fisher says adults often think those old phones are not useable, but if kids can figure out how to connect them to Wi-Fi, their just like new, and their online use can then go unmonitored.

But what about the devices we’re still using?

Fisher says just keeping them away from kids isn’t the answer, especially as they grow older.

That’s where the goal shifts to education and knowledge, and there are specific things parents and adults can watch for.

“If a child is using their technology alone a lot, so going to their room or the bathroom, they aren’t willing to use their phone or tablet in a common area where parents can oversee that, that could be a red flag,” warns Fisher.

Because it’s so easy to create fake profiles or steal a person’s identity online, she suggests not only monitoring activity and app use, but talking to kids to help them make sure that online friend is their real friend.

And for those adults who say they don’t monitor online activity to respect a child’s privacy, especially regarding older kids, Fisher offers a different perspective.

“I’m sure most parents wouldn’t drop their child off in downtown Green Bay in the middle of the night. That’s just not a smart thing to do as a parent, and you need to think about it as similar to that, like you’re giving your child unrestricted access to all these potential perpetrators,” says Fisher. “So, yes, we want to trust our children and give them independence and help them develop those critical thinking skills. It really depends on their age level of how much of it is monitoring versus how much is having that conversation about what’s appropriate and what are your expectations, so it should be something that’s kind of graduated to their level, and it should be ongoing in terms of technology education.”

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