April 26, 2023

Unimaginable. But this is the sad reality faced by many children today.

In my 29 years of fighting to prevent the sexual abuse and exploitation of children, this horrifying case hit me hard. 
It reminded me to remind you that even the most unlikely people can be that "disguised predator" that we may assume is a safe person. The sad reality is that pure evil that exists behind the dark veil that conceals child sexual abuse and exploitation.
As disturbing as it is, child sex abuse is preventable. It's important to be educated.  We're here to help.

I always make it a point to remind parents and kids that you can't disguise a child predator. A predator can be anyone. A doctor, lawyer, pastor, coach, teacher or family member -- anyone, male or female.

In the disturbing case referenced above, Eleanor Hunton Hoppe of Charlottesville, Virginia -- a mother of two young daughters, a described "socialite" and ex-wife of a Virginia judge -- was arrested after police say she agreed to meet an undercover agent with his fictitious 8-year-old daughter at a hotel in Warrenton, Virginia. Police say Hoppe disclosed in her online communications with the undercover agent her plans to abuse the girl. The police report also indicates that she sent violent child sexual abuse material to agents.

The accused mother was charged with distributing child pornography, enticement of a minor and attempted transportation of a minor with attempt to engage in sexual activity. The accounts of her alleged activity are too disturbing to share here.

Research shows that women, even mothers who sexually abuse children, may do so for different reasons than men, including narcissistic tendencies (jealousy, exaggerated self importance), may see a relationship based on love and not abuse, or may be a "predisposed molester," often having experienced abuse themselves.

As we draw upon a close to "Child Abuse Prevention Month" marked each April, we must always be mindful of the very real risks our children face and educate ourselves and our children about these threats.

Key points:
  • You cannot detect disguised predator: prominent community leaders or even women with children can be a predator, sex offender or trafficker. They come from all backgrounds and may live in our own backyards.

  • Someone known and trusted by the child or child’s family members, perpetrates 91% of child sexual abuse. (Source: CDC)

  • Research has indicated that women are 4.5 times more likely to offend against their biological child, or other children in their care, as opposed to children they don't know.

  • Children and adolescents must be educated about predator awareness in age appropriate ways and made aware of the grooming tactics predators often employ to gain a child's trust.

  • Cycle of abuse- Children (whose sexual exploitation/abuse is depicted) are forced to suffer a lifetime of re-victimization and trauma each time the image of their sexual abuse is viewed online. Child sexual exploitation can have a direct connection to pornography and sex trafficking.


Conversation Starters:

Ask your child:

  • What kind of information do you consider safe or unsafe to share online?
  • Would it be easy for someone to track you down?
  • Have you ever said/posted anything online you wish you could take back?
  • Has anyone ever hurt your feelings with something they posted about you online?
  • Have you been contacted online by a stranger? If so, what did you do/say?
  • Has anyone ever asked you to send (or sent you) pictures or videos that made you feel uncomfortable?
  • Do you know what the word ‘consent’ means?
  • If someone said that you had to send them a picture or video “or else,” what do you think you should do?

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

Parents, I urge you to have these critical conversations with your children. Build a relationship of trust so your children know they can come to you when they feel uncomfortable or unsafe.

Don't forget to visit internetsafety101.org for information on this topic and many other internet risks your children face. 

Working together to keep our children safer on the internet,

*** If you see something, say something. Report the online sexual exploitation of children to the CyberTipline.