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MARATHON CO., Wis. (WAOW) — Human trafficking concerns grow as the pandemic rolls on.

Local law enforcement said Friday it’s because more kids are spending time online.

They add that these times make it easier for predators to start conversations with children.

Human trafficking is a term we hear often. It’s becoming more of a worry as kids are turning to computer and phone screens as a way to pass time during the COVID-19 pandemic. With that, officials say kids can be easier targets for trafficking.

According to law enforcement

“They [predators] have plenty of success establishing relationships with children online and then luring them to a place that’s safe for them where they can do whatever their intent is with that child,” Jeff Stefonek, Investigations Lieutenant with the Marathon County Sheriff’s Office, said.

Stefonek added internet use is up between 30%-70%, depending on what platform you look at.

The sheriff’s department is part of a state-wide task force, Internet Crimes Against Children or ICAC.

“[ICAC provides] support and funding from the state to be proactive when it comes to investigations of people targeting children online especially for sex trafficking and sexual gratification,” Stefonek said.

Investigators encourage parents to check in with your kids about any suspicious conversations they may be having online. They call it a game changer in preventing children from becoming a victim to sex trafficking.

“Talk with your kids. Say, ‘Hey we downloaded this app last week. How has it been going on there? Is anyone talking inappropriately on there?’ Get kids thinking about good ways to avoid that behavior,” Stefonek said.

Parents reaction

One area parent admitted it’s a scary thing to think about.

“I’ve spent quite a few nights crying over stories that I’ve read or looked at,” said Becca Dau, a Wausau mother. “Just thinking, ‘What if those were my kids?’ “

Officials say creating a safe environment with your kids can make them feel more comfortable when coming to you if a predator is trying to chat with them online.

If you know of someone or think someone is involved in sex trafficking, call local law enforcement or the National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1 (888) 373-7888.

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