University of South Florida St. Petersburg Campus



USF, Junior League of Tampa sponsor free virtual discussion to protect children from online predators

Child at computer.

The University of South Florida and the Junior League of Tampa will offer a free interactive discussion on Tuesday, Jan. 11, from 7 to 9 p.m., to help parents recognize warning signs and create safeguards to protect their children from online predators.

The discussion, Human Trafficking in the Age of Technology: Warning Signs and Legal Protection for Minor Victims, will examine predators’ methods. It will also examine how the COVID-19 pandemic created greater risk as more children isolated at home and turned to social media and chatrooms to connect with friends.

The session is open to the public and will be streamed live on Facebook. Visit to register and attend.

The discussion, which resulted from a collaboration of USF’s Trafficking in Persons (TiP) Risk to Resilience Lab, the Cybercrime Interdisciplinary Behavioral Research Lab and the Junior League of Tampa, will include an information session with panelists and an audience Q&A moderated by Associate Professor Fawn Ngo, who helped organize the event.

The speakers include:

  • Human trafficking attorney Jacquelyn Bradford, Gulfcoast Legal Services, Inc.
  • Colby Valentine, assistant professor of instruction, Department of Criminology, University of South Florida
  • Roberta (Birdy) O’Malley, assistant professor, Department of Criminology, University of South Florida
  • Jeff Burke, an FBI special agent assigned to cybercrime cases

Joan Reid, director of the TiP Lab, which is based on the St. Peterburg campus, will introduce the speakers and offer opening remarks. The livestream arose out of discussions between Reid and Junior League members that first occurred last summer as the members sought advice to protect children when online.

Kaitlin Howell, chair of the League’s Human Trafficking Awareness Committee, said she expects more than 100 League members to attend the two-hour session.

“We’re very impressed by the panel USF has put together for us and we’re looking forward to an interesting and informative discussion and receiving updated statistics,” she said.

Online predation of children is widespread across the U.S., with an estimated 500,000 online predators active daily. The FBI reports that more than 50 percent of victims of online sexual exploitation are between the ages of 12 and 15 and an estimated 89 percent of online sexual advances occur in internet chatrooms or through instant messaging.

“Human trafficking awareness is one of the areas of concern for the Junior League of Tampa, and we are very invested in bringing awareness to this issue as it continues to impact communities across the nation, especially during the pandemic,” said Ngo, a criminologist at the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus. “The lab members also are excited that the discussion presents an opportunity for USF to reach out and collaborate with community members to address important issues like child exploitation.”

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