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Children's safety advocates and law enforcement officials are warning parents to be watchful over their kids' online activity, as sexual predators may be seeking to exploit the vulnerable during the coronavirus pandemic.
"This is a really overwhelming time, but this is something that cannot be ignored," said childhood abduction and rape survivor Alicia Kozakiewicz on a new episode of Fox Nation's "Crime Stories with Nancy Grace."
"Kids are home and the predators are home and they are picking these kids out and easily able to find them," cautioned Kozakiewicz, who has become a motivational speaker, Internet safety expert and author. "They know where they are and they're going to be in the places where the kids spent the most time."
Tragically, at 13-years-old, Kozakiewicz was kidnapped from her home on January 1, 2002. Her abductor contacted her online and lured her out of her home in Pittsburgh, Penn. She was kidnapped and transported to Herndon, Va., where she was held captive in a basement dungeon and subjected to unthinkable abuse.
This important new episode of "Crime Stories" comes on the heels of the arrest of 30 men in Fairfax County, Va. in April in connection to an online child predator sting, called "Operation COVID crackdown."
Virginia police said that school closures caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the sharp increase in virtual learning have heightened the risk for children.
Fairfax country Police Department Major Ed O’Carroll said in a statement last month: "Our detectives have remained vigilant and they recognized the increased threat posed by online predators in recent weeks... I commend their ability to adapt during this unprecedented public health pandemic and to do so in the interest of protecting our children and bringing justice to those who commit these repugnant crimes."
"It's like the... jackals sneaking up on the animals, the gazelles at the watering hole," said former prosecutor and Fox Nation host Nancy Grace, "They wait for that moment when there is chaos, confusion such as a thunderbolt in the distance and the moment the gazelles are not paying attention that is when they strike."
Kozakiewicz told Grace how child predators seek to exploit children online.
"I was groomed. I was introduced to the person in a chatroom," said Kozakiewicz. "Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat, none of that existed yet, this was back in 2002 and I was the first case to receive high-profile media attention in an Internet luring.
"Grooming is incredibly simple. It's just pretending to be a child's friend and being there for them," she continued. "Kids struggle with so many vulnerabilities and so many insecurities and these predators feed on those. They find them and they exploit them."
Additionally, Kozakiewicz observed that it may be difficult for parents to recognize a change in their child's behavior even after they are contacted by a predator.
"The issue with grooming is that it is not entirely visible. It looks like being a teenager, the child spends more time online, more time alone, doesn't hang out with their friends as much as maybe a little bit crankier than normal. That is just being a teenager. And that's why parents have to be so alert and have to work so hard to protect their children," she concluded.
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