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Prosecutors launch educational program to fight exploitation

July 9, 2021 GMT

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — Federal prosecutors in Virginia are launching an educational initiative to alert students and others about the increasing dangers of online sexual exploitation involving children.

Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Raj Parekh on Friday announced the program, titled “UnMasked.” The program will include presentations at middle schools, high schools and universities.

“Online predators target some of the most vulnerable members of our society and can cause a devastating impact on our communities and loved ones,” Parekh said in a written statement. “The first step to fighting back is awareness—educating our youth and parents with information on how to prevent these crimes from happening.”

The program will use a curriculum from the Alexandria-based National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) called NetSmartz, which relies in part on stories from survivors of sexual exploitation.

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NCMEC says online sexual exploitation exploded in 2020, fueled by social isolation caused by the pandemic. The center’s “CyberTipline” received more than 21 million reports of child sexual exploitation from electronic service providers in 2020, a 27% increase over the previous year.

The Eastern District of Virginia is headquartered in Alexandria with offices in Richmond, Newport News and Norfolk.