Don’t post photos of your children online, ever says expert


Laurie Pieters-James says parents think ‘it won’t happen to them’ or photos of fully clothed children aren’t a problem and hopes to change even one family’s online behaviour as she pleads for cyber crimes and online trafficking to be taken seriously.

October 24, 2023

Laurie Pieters-James. Photo: Emily Wellman Bain
 Laurie Pieters-James. Photo: Emily Wellman Bain

There is no person using the internet that is safe says forensic criminologist and human trafficker hunter Laurie Pieters-James.

She hunts syndicates and trains the Hawks and other law enforcement groups to assist them with tracking human trafficking rings and cyber criminals.

In a one-on-one interview with the Northcliff Melville Times, it was revealed that she was involved in what is suspected to have been a hit on her life because of the nature of her work.

“Trafficking syndicates are worth billions. The international airline industry is worth about $30 billion. The trafficking industry is worth $157 billion. So, it’s very big business.”

“Nobody wants to understand the extent to which they or their children are a target.”

Speaking at the Fairland CPF meeting recently, she said, “Anyone who lets their children use the internet unsupervised are playing with their lives.”

Laurie Pieters-James was invited by the Fairland CPF to alert the community to online scams and threats. Photo: Emily Wellman Bain
Laurie Pieters-James was invited by the Fairland CPF to alert the community to online scams and threats. Photo: Emily Wellman Bain

She says unchecked use of a smartphone in the hands of a child is more dangerous than giving them a loaded gun. “At least with a gun if they have an accident they can die quickly. We think of paedophiles as old men sitting in their homes trawling the internet, it doesn’t work like that anymore.”

“We put our whole lives online intentionally through ego. Photos with car registrations, pictures of what school your children go to, photos of your home and so on are all clues. Those are the obvious ones but there are always more that slick syndicates gather. People would be shocked if they knew how much of a footprint they expose online.”

She describes loading photographs of children onto social media as ‘beyond dangerous’.

“People think if it is not a sexy picture of their child, but one fully clothed at their birthday party, that they are safe.”

“If that child appeals to a paedophile, they are in danger. Global network syndicates will share the information and use online photos and other shared data to find them.”

“Your ego as a parent that wants to show off achievements or milestones should never trump the safety of the same children they are boasting about.”

And it doesn’t need to be, and mostly is not a physical abduction says Pieters-James.

An international paedophilic syndicate was exposed with 65 000 members, of which nearly 400 were from South Africa she says.

“These paedophiles often befriend them in some way and after a while get the child to send them an innocent photograph. This goes on for a while as trust is built. After a few photos have been sent the perp has leverage.”

Laurie Pieters-James. Photo: Emily Wellman Bain
Laurie Pieters-James. Photo: Emily Wellman Bain

It often begins on social media and eventually moves to WhatsApp where there is more privacy.

Pieters-James says often children who are not getting enough support and attention at home find the interest a stranger is giving them as a boost and as a positive interaction.

“Eventually say the girl might send a photo of her breasts. Before she knows it the perpetrator has an entire collection of pictures. From innocent photos follow progressively more and more sexualised photos until the child is eventually sending pornographic images to avoid being ‘caught out or exposed’ to friends and family.”

She says it takes 15 seconds for a photo loaded onto social media to be shared in online paedophilic groups and sites.

“The photos can never be deleted.”

“This is an example of when someone is recruited online and trafficked in the real world.”

Today’s youth think of their phones as an extension of their bodies she says. “Many will do what the paedophile wants rather than risk their phones being taken away if they own up to their parents about what is unfolding.”

This is why the threat of confiscating a phone must never be used.

“If a child needs to look up information or to call for help’, they need their phones, please, please don’t take their phones away.”

What is human trafficking?

  • There are many forms of trafficking: human, organ, labour, sex and more.
  • It is when people in positions of power exploit others
  • There does not have to be movement or kidnapping to be trafficked
  • People can be exploited in their own homes
  • Victims are recruited in the real world and online
  • Victims are exploited in the real world and online

This is also where the ‘dark web’ comes into play – an underground web of unchecked terror. “I will die for this cause because there are people, and children in particular that are in danger.”

In 73% of cases of trafficking, there is a family member involved

Different kinds of online scams

  • Cyber crime: Hacking, phishing, financial scams, sex trafficking, online bullying, commercial exploitation and online fraud
  • Never make online payments unless you have triple-checked where your money is going
  • Always phone the bank if someone has asked for your PIN, to change a password or other information
  • Never log into public networks unless you are comfortable with your phone’s photos and data being made public
  • Never give blanket permissions to online Apps on your phone or computer

“There’s very little that is being done by law enforcement because they’re completely overwhelmed,” says Pieters-James.

Safety measures for children

  • Monitor closely what your children are doing online
  • Only give phones with limited Apps and connectivity ability
  • Put computers in open spaces in the house
  • Never let your child take a smartphone to bed with them

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