Two weeks of online learning will mean more screentime for Manitobans, but with child exploitation cases skyrocketing, parents are being encouraged to have honest discussions about internet safety. 

Over the past year, the Canadian Centre for Child Protect (C3P) has seen cases of child exploitation massively increase since April. They say this is because more young people are spending more time online. Since April of 2020, they have an 88 per cent increase in reports of child exploitation to the centre. This includes children receiving sexual messages and images from adults online or being coerced to engage in sexual activities.

"Since the beginning of COVID, again going back to April, we did see a shift," Noni Classen, the Director of Education with C3P says. 

The more unsupervised screen time a child has could result in more of a chance of exploitation, which is why parents are being encouraged to have conversations with their children about their online activity.

"It is really important to be having conversations with kids in age-appropriate ways," she says. "The conversations are really critical because you need to prepare kids for potentially coming into situations online.

Joy Smith, founder of the Joy Smith Foundation, says that anyone can be a victim. Smith says Steve Bell has been open about his family's experiences as his daughter faced trafficking. 

What constitutes as inappropriate can range, including between people their own age. She says things such as a 15-year-old sending photos of themselves to another 15-year-old is against the law and cautions that once the photo is sent, the sender no longer has control over it.

joy smithJoy Smith volunteers with her foundation to raise awareness and fight against human trafficking.

Classen says that it is not the child's fault when they become lured. She says some children may worry that they will be punished or lose their privileges if they speak with their parents about uncomfortable incidents. 

"They could be hesitant to reach out for help, and also because it could be something that is very shameful for them and that is really difficult to talk about," Classen says.

She says that identifying yourself as a safe person to reach out to will make the child feel more comfortable.

Classen says children often assume responsibility for the incident and try to solve the issue themselves, which can cause more issues.

Smith notes that it is not rude to block someone online, especially if the person is being inappropriate. Smith says to never meet anyone met online in person.

"They do not have to confront the person or argue with the person," Smith says. "I would block that email as soon as something like that happens because that predator should not be able to get to them."  

Smith says young people often think they have to answer everyone online, but reassures them that they do not.

Classen says parents need to have conversations about online safety, and if a child does approach someone saying they are having negative experiences online, the parent should reassure the child.

"I think the first thing is to really let the kids know that they are glad that they did come forward, that they did the right thing by reaching out," Classen says.

Smith says as Christians people need to take the lead in trafficking.

"In the Christian community, I think it is our responsibility as Christians to be the leaders and to say no," Smith says.

She says while it could be an uncomfortable topic, it is important for the wellbeing of children. If trafficking occurs, Smith says that there is hope for those who have been trafficked.