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WYNONA’S HOUSE: “Child Safety in the Dawn of the Metaverse – Are We Ready for This New Frontier”

By rlsmetro on
Essex County

By: Lisa Marie Gaeta

The Wynona's House Child Advocacy Center proudly presented its second event in its 2022 Training and Workshops on Child Maltreatment series, titled "Child Safety in the Dawn of the Metaverse – Are We Ready for This New Frontier?"

On Monday, November 14, 2022, at Montclair State University, Wynona's House was the first to stream a newly released, award-winning documentary in the tri-state area.

The film is an investigation into the world of online grooming and exploitation, a present-day reality for one in seven children online. Director, editor, and producer Maria Peek and producer and cinematographer Stephen Peek were present to answer attendees' questions after the screening. View the trailer by clicking HERE 

Honored speakers included:

  • 2022 Santa Barbara International Film Festival Social Justice Feature Documentaries Producers Maria and Stephen Peek 

  • Sought-After Leader, Speaker, & Mentor in the Anti-Human Trafficking Movement and a Passionate Advocate for Victims of Human Trafficking, Gina Cavallo 

"The extremely disturbing yet timely subject matter, combined with the challenges of filming during the pandemic, made making this film almost an impossible task. We had to adjust, improvise, and rely on court drawings and animation when filming was impossible," said Maria Peek.

"The written stories of survivors, obtained in person and from the court documents, have opened my eyes to the severity and cruelty of this crime, especially the psychological long-term effects on the children and their futures. I hope that in the same way, the eyes of the viewers will be opened – and awareness, education, and civil action will become the result of this film. We simply cannot allow this to go on."

"This award-winning documentary is an eye-opening resource for the community at large. In the dawn of the metaverse, we need to stay alert and help others understand the negative effects this new platform has on children," stated Dominic Prophete, CEO of Wynona's House, Essex County's Child Advocacy Center.

"We're honored to be the first to screen this documentary and be joined by Maria and Stephen Peek to educate child welfare professionals here in New Jersey."

Survivor Gina Cavallo shared her life experiences as a survivor of childhood abuse and trafficking to help people understand the actual reality of human trafficking and create hope for triumphing over horrific crimes against the mind, body, and spirit.

She educated others about the part they can play in survivors' freedom, healing, and restoration from shame to help prevent the victimization of others. Recently, Gina was appointed as a commissioner to the New Jersey Commission on Human Trafficking. She is also a state-certified advocate for domestic violence and sexual assault victims.

On the national level, she was recognized as the recipient of the 2020 National Liberators Awards for Survivor Leader. At the conclusion of the event, Maria and Stephen Peek, representatives from the local Internet Crimes Against Children unit, and mental health professionals discussed and helped educate the community on how to keep children safe on the Internet. Details about the event are available by clicking HERE.

The first event in Wynona's House's training series was held at Montclair State University on October 11, 2022. It was aimed at improving collaborative responses to the emerging threat of victimization for children in virtual environments, such as metaverses.

Even though metaverses may be virtual, the impact is real.

The workshops focused on enhancing Children Advocacy Center (CAC) and multidisciplinary team (MDT) competencies to improve collaborative response and provision of an array of services, including medical and mental health, to children victimized in virtual environments as well as current and evolving laws, strategies, and practices to help protect children online and keep them safe.

This year, the Wynona's House Child Advocacy Center 2022 Training and Workshops on Child Maltreatment consist of two training events. Details about the event are available by clicking HERE.

The United States continues to be the largest producer and consumer of child abuse materials.

The COVID-19 pandemic-imposed lockdowns and social distancing regulations have accelerated the advancement of online engagement technology, and our society's move to online engagement platforms has further increased the normalization of unsupervised, prolonged child social interaction on virtual platforms.

It has provided easier and prolonged access to children for child predators and has placed exponentially more children at risk of being abused, trafficked, and sexually exploited. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children statistical report, 2020 was a record-breaking year, with more than 21.7 million reports of suspected child sexual exploitation made to NCMEC's CyberTipline, the highest number of reports ever received in one year.

In addition, there have been 82 million reports of child sexual abuse material. According to the same report, they have noticed a clear and disturbing uptick in their CyberTipline reports of online enticement—in 2020 alone, these types of incidents increased by 97.5% compared to the year prior.

This grooming of children for sexual solicitation and online prostitution is considered a technology-facilitated form of human trafficking of children.

While many federal and state laws protect children from explicit content and sexual and labor exploitation online, the specific features of these user-generated virtual worlds allow for violations of these protections as safety features are left to users to police themselves.

This leaves users, particularly children, vulnerable in "real life" and in virtual reality. This offers predators an opportunity to exploit this not sufficiently regulated world.

For questions regarding this event, please contact Wynona's House Development and Communication Associate, Minela Kajmak, at mkajmak@wynonashouse.org or 973-735-2237.