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One of the critical gaps I see in safety systems used by churches and other organizations working with children is a lack of current and accurate knowledge about how child predators are increasingly using phone apps and text messaging to lure, entice, and track victims.{THREAD}
The apps that have been used by pastors (mostly youth pastors aged 20-30) to groom, isolate, and abuse teens include:

1. Text messaging
2. Snapchat
3. Instagram
4. Kik Messenger
5. Whisper
6. Facebook Messenger
7. Twitter
8. Skout
9. Meet Me
10. Grindr
11. Omegle
Predators use these apps to test boundaries, gain trust, send/request illicit messages, and control their victims. Sometimes they try to convince the target to meet up somewhere - places have included parking lots (like Walmart), parks, hotels, and homes. Any isolated place.
Sometimes they create fake profiles with fake pictures and pose as someone else of a similar age as their target hoping to form an online friendship. The victim has no idea the person they are communicating with is not who they appear to be online.
Another way predators try to conceal their true identity is by using apps that are designed for anonymous communication. Predators will sometimes meet a victim online and then ask them to switch to a different platform that will allow them to take greater risks.
Some have used these apps to track their victims. Last Summer a youth pastor was arrested on rape charges involving a 14-year old girl. He had been sending her 15-20 messages a day, used Snapchat to track her, and showed up unannounced in her bedroom. support.snapchat.com/en-US/a/snap-m…
Although I haven't come across these in church situations, other apps used by child predators include: Tinder, Chat Avenue, Chat Roulette, Wishbone, Live.ly, Musical.ly, Paltalk, Yubo, Hot or Not, Down, Tumblr, Fortnite, Minecraft, and Discord.
Police in England and Wales recorded 1,944 incidents of sexual communication with children over 6 months. Instagram (very popular among teens) was used in 32% of the 1,317 cases where a method was recorded. Facebook in 23%. Snapchat in 14%. bbc.com/news/uk-474105…
These activities easily go unnoticed by parents and caregivers. Perpetrators often lure their victims into isolation and secrecy. These apps and devices allow isolation to be accomplished in new and undetected ways. There are even apps to hide these apps.
I'm glad that survivors of abuse are speaking out, churches and religious organizations are being forced to respond, and steps are being taken to raise awareness, educate, and prevent. However, most of what I've seen falls far short of what safety actually requires.
Policies and training often cover the basics, with the assumption many will be able to be trained, insurance providers will be satisfied, litigation will be avoided, people will know how to respond, and predators will be chased away when they realize what they are up against.
Yet I fear we don't realize what we are up against - a highly deceptive evil that contextualizes its approach. For example, one megachurch's policy prohibits 1-to-1 electronic communication unless for "discipleship", as if a predator wouldn't use discipleship as pretext to abuse.
Many churches have policies prohibiting closed door one-on-one meetings unless there is a window on the door, yet one pastor simply hung his coat up on the hook above the window every time he abused his victim, and nobody suspected a thing.
You will not prevent a risk you do not know exists. You will not prevent a risk you do not understand. Inadequate policies and training, however well-intentioned, do not chase away predators. Rather, they communicate to the predator that the community can be exploited.
Robust policies are needed to address current and specific threats. Education must go beyond short video lectures and quizzes. Certificates for passing a self-paced program can give the illusion of learning without the demands required for the deep learning that effects change.
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