The dark side of the web: cyber child exploitation on the rise

GRANTS PASS, Ore. —  “We have child exploitation pictures and videos that are created right here in this community. This is not a third world problem,” said Sgt. Colin Fagan, Computer Forensics Det. Southern Oregon High-Tech Crimes Task Force.

The internet can be a scary place, especially for children.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children says in 2018, their tip line received millions of reports of child sexual abuse images and predators enticing children in what investigators refer to as “sextortion.”

“Predators often portray themselves as one thing when, in actuality, they’re something completely different,” said Lt. Dennis Ward, Grants Pass Dept. of Public Safety.

It’s a problem the Grants Pass Department of Public Safety says they’re well aware of, making numerous arrests on child sex abuse cases in the past few months.

“A lot of the predators and stuff like that are trying to get the children to meet them,” said Lt. Ward. “Parents will report it to us and say, hey, this is what’s been happening.”

Police say predators begin by developing relationships with children whether by phone or computer. They often use fake names and pretend to be much younger.

“We know that daily there are kids that are approached in a sexual way and kids just ignore that and move on,” said Sgt. Fagan.

He says more recently, he’s noticed parents giving children as young as 8 or 9 years old access to technology, but not properly educating themselves on its dangers.

“It’s very much like putting your child in a room with a stranger and now you’ve locked yourself out, you don’t even have the ability to get into it,” he said.

The task force handles an average of 40 percent of child exploitation cases every year.

So, what can you do to protect your kids?

“We find that one of the best ways to manage this is having a wireless router in your home that you control,” said Sgt. Fagan.

But what it really comes down to, he says, is spreading awareness.

“Really what we need to do is work together… to inform them of what the risks are and to be there on their shoulder,” he said.

And then, if needed, being proactive.

“This is a problem you have to be involved with from day one [and] not allow to become a problem, then seek solutions,” he said. “Because, often times, we find it’s way too late when that happens.”

Police say it’s all about monitoring your kids’ technology. That means being on the look-out for predators posing with fake names, asking for photos, or to meet somewhere.

Even if the conversation just seems off, contact law enforcement.

For more information on internet safety for kids, click here.

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