Carousel Center raising awareness for ‘sextortion’ through film screening, panel discussion

HAMPSTEAD, NC (WWAY) — Do you know the risks children face online? Raising awareness for this is the goal of an event happening for the next few days in Pender and New Hanover Counties.

The Carousel Center is sponsoring screenings of the film “Sextortion: The Hidden Pandemic.” It tells the story of a top gun pilot who groomed hundreds of children online.

Stephen Peek is the producer of the film. As a parent of two young girls, he says he hopes not only parents, but their children can learn from it.

“It’s our goal with the film to educate parents and educate teens because we feel teens actually want to be leaders in this space. Staying safe online, using technology for all the amazing things it has to offer but knowing what the dangers are so that they can be aware,” Peek said.

The screening is followed by a panel discussion for people to learn more about internet crimes against children. One of the featured panelists is Kevin Roughton. He is the special agent in charge of the computer crimes unit of the State Bureau of Investigation, as well as the commander of the North Carolina Crimes Against Children Task Force.

“Child sexual exploitation and specifically sextortion has skyrocketed over the last few years so parents being involved and having those conversations is critically important,” Roughton said.

According to Roughton, it was not unusual to see a year-after-year increase in reports of the crimes as more and more people gain access to technology. During the pandemic, the number dramatically increased as more people were online than ever. Since then, the number continues to drastically go up. Since 2019, reports have increased by 500% and continue to rise.

To help prevent the number from increasing further, Roughton says parents should closely monitor what their kids are doing online and who they are talking to because they are not always who they seem.

“We wouldn’t allow our kids to walk out the door to go anywhere they wanted to with anyone they wanted to for [however] long, but we give them access to go anywhere they want to, talk to anyone they want to for any period of time on the internet and don’t ask questions,” Roughton said. “So parents need to be parents on the internet, not just when you walk out the door at home.”

The first screening was held Tuesday night at The Pender County Annex in Hampstead. The next screenings will be Wednesday at Dreams of Wilmington and on Thursday at the Train Depot in Burgaw. Each event begins at 5 pm. It is free to attend but registration is required. For more information, visit here. 

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