CHARLESTON, W.Va. — With the growing access to the internet for children through devices, the number of cases dealing with child exploitation have increased at a rapid pace, Federal Bureau of Investigation officials said on Thursday.
Mike Stuart, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia, led a press conference in Charleston on Thursday alongside the FBI and the West Virginia State Police (WVSP) to announce results of their efforts to fight those crimes that have been doubling and ways for parents to be on the lookout.
“We are active 24 hours a day, seven days a week because predators don’t sleep and neither do we,” Stuart said. “We work hard in this area and I am really proud to announce some of the results we have from multiple investigations from the past six months.”
Over that time period, the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force has made 19 arrests, executed 27 search warrants, had 10 indictments including 3 pending and 9 convictions in specific proactive efforts in the Southern District.
Stuart said those numbers do not include the dozens of other cases his office has prosecuted over that specific period of time.
These are crimes related the exploitation for sex with children, child pornography and human trafficking. The task force partners in the district include the WVSP, Parkersburg Police Department, Raleigh County Sheriff’s Office and Kanawha County Sheriff’s Office.
FBI Assistant Section Chief Brian Herrick, Violent Crimes Against Children, said at the presser that the numbers of complaints in these cases in West Virginia are doubling from year to year. He said in 2018, over 1,000 complaints came into the FBI from West Virginia compared to around 500 in 2017.
“In this day in age when every child has access to tablets, laptop computers, and in particular smartphone devices that have excellent video streaming capabilities that problem has grown dramatically,” Herrick said.
Herrick added that they have seen an increase over the last five years in 60-percent of our production cases of prosecuting people who are producing child exploitation material.
The large platforms where exploitation has taken place has been social media but Herrick said gaming platforms are on the rise. He wants parents and guardians to know there can be dangers of online gaming.
“Many of these predators are using gaming credit, cheat codes, other ways to entice a child within that gaming platform in order to produce an image of themselves,” Herrick said. “They are using that image to exploit them, to extort them to produce more and more.”
Parents and guardians should begin a dialogue with their children about internet safety, Herrick said as the most important effort to protecting children.
Officials said Net Smartz Children videos are available online by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that can help the starting of that dialogue to be easier.
While Herrick knows that those conversations are not easy to have with children, he said those conversations to be key to children making smart decisions online.
“Gone are the days of just telling parents to keep the family computer in the living room,” Herrick said. “That’s not appropriate advice in 2019 anymore because of the proliferation of the devices out there…the access through the internet and Wi-Fi capabilities.”
Officials said if any parents, guardians or children need help with these cases to reach out to any law enforcement office. More tips on ways to protect kids can by found on the FBI’s website.