TAMPA, Florida (AP) -- Attorney General Pam Bondi says the state will place billboards along streets, in malls and on bus shelters to raise awareness of human trafficking.
During a news conference Friday, Bondi announced a statewide program called "From Instant Message to Instant Nightmare," aimed at helping parents spot sexual exploitation of children online.
Bondi says parents and adults can download a tip sheet about Internet safety and a pledge for children to sign and print.
According to the state Department of Children and Families, Florida is one of the most popular destinations for human traffickers in the U.S. and sex trafficking of young victims is among the most underreported offenses.
"By raising awareness about human trafficking and asking parents to play an active role in preventing sex traffickers from recruiting their children online, we can help stop this horrific crime," stated Attorney General Pam Bondi. "According to one report, the average age of children recruited into sex trafficking is between 12 and 14 years old."
The agency started a statewide task force in 2009 because the majority of sex trafficking victims are foster youth.
Parents can follow these tips to help protect their children from human traffickers online:
* Talk to your children about sex trafficking and sexual abuse. Describe human trafficking as modern-day slavery, where people are captured and treated inhumanely. Awareness is the first step in preventing it;
* Restrict use of the computer to the living room or other area of the house where other family members are present;
* Know your child's screen names and passwords, even if you have your child write them down and put them in a sealed envelope. If anything happens, you will be able to access your child's accounts to trace who he or she has been communicating with;
* Use the parental control settings on your computer to check the Internet history. Look for warning signs in your children, such as: mood swings and anxiety; new friends who are significantly older; and new gifts, pre-paid credit cards, clothes or cell phones that you did not purchase; and
* Let your children know that they can talk to you, or a trusted adult, about anything that makes them uncomfortable.
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