Event aims to boost digital safety

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PRIEST RIVER — Every year, as many as 34,000 Idaho children receive at least one internet solicitation for sex.

According to the Idaho Internet Crimes Against Children, by the time they turn 18, more than 200 million girls and 100 million boys are the victim of a cyberpredator. Most of the cases involve children over the age of 13.

A program to help local youth and their parents safety navigate the digital world is being held today at Priest River Lamanna High School.

“Youth Safety in the Digital World,” which is being presented by the Idaho internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, will be held from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the PRLHS cafeteria, 596 Highway 57. The program is being sponsored by the Priest River Police Department, West Bonner County School District, and 21st Century Community Learning Center Agoge.

“We’ve had a few children within our own school district targeted by predators posing as other students their age so the threat is very real and very present,” said Cherie Coldwell, 21st Century Program director at Priest River Lamanna High School. “I think it’s important not only for the parents to be aware of what’s going on online and with the use of apps for the students to be aware that they are potential victims to these predators.”

Coldwell said parents often may not realize how big the problem is — and that it reaches into even small, rural communities such as those in North Idaho. From asking for nude photos and strangers encouraging area youth to meet them in person and cyberbullying, there’s any number of problems that happen even in rural communities such as Priest River and, in Bonner County at large.

Idaho Internet Crimes Against Children estimates that, at any one time, there are more than 750,000 child sexual predators using the internet attempting to contacting children to sexually exploit them. In addition, there are an estimated 625,000 traders of child pornography online every month and about 20 new children appear on these sites monthly; many kidnapping and child sex trafficking victims.

In Idaho, the IICAC estimates that as many as 5,000 Idaho children are exploited by predators via mail or phone calls with requests to meet in person. Between 2006 and 2013, there were 230 documented cases of child exploitation through pornography with over a third involving the use of a computer.

IICAC also notes that sexting and bullying are increasingly being engaged in by children and are often targeted by sexual predators. Some of this activity is also often known to precipitate attempted or successful child suicides, the group notes on its website.

In addition to raising awareness and, Coldwell added, the alarm, the program will also be covering vault apps — apps that appear innocuous but are really texting/messaging apps — child sex trafficking, the dangers of sexting/sextortion, cyberbullying/stalking, the permanence of the internet, as well the dangers of pornography, child sex trafficking, and more.

The program is open to all students (fifth-grade and up) and their parents who live in the West Bonner County School District.

“It’s highly encouraged that parents bring their kids so they can have an active discussion afterward,” Coldwell said.

Caroline Lobsinger can be reached by email at clobsinger@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow her on Twitter @CarolDailyBee.

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