Child predators have it easier than ever to entice their young victims, due to the ever-growing accessibility of the Internet. "It's a lot easier now than everybody has the Internet in their pocket," Lexington Police Detective David Flannery told Karla Ward of the Lexington Herald-Leader. "Every day that we think of a way to combat it, people are thinking of a way to get around us," Flannery said. "It changes every day, and you have to keep up with it."
Using the World Wide Web to lure children for sex acts has skyrocketed since 1998, when the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children received 707 reports of people trying to entice children via the Internet. In 2008, there were 8,787 reports.
"Computers and cell phones remain the primary means of communication, but game systems including Xbox 360, Nintendo DS and Wii also can be connected to the Internet, giving predators another way to gain access to children," Ward reports.
Though parents are becoming more aware, more education is needed, said Erin May Roth, an assistant U.S. attorney and the Project Safe Childhood coordinator for the Eastern District of Kentucky. "What they don't really think about is the fact that their kids are going to sleep with their phone," she said.
Flannery is the only police officer in Lexington assigned full-time to investigate Internet crimes against children. While he does not go into detail about his methods to track down predators, the concept involves pretending. "Anything that a kid can do, we can do," Flannery said.
Sometimes officers from several agencies and departments work together. The Kentucky State Police administers an Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, the state attorney general's office has a similar unit, and, because cases can involve a number of jurisdictions, sometimes the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the U.S. Postal Service, the Secret Service and U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement are involved.
Mother Frieda Curry, right, discovered her 14-year-old daughter was entangled with a 38-year-old man who initially pretended to be 16. She contacted the Richmond Police Department and found more than 40 text messages and 10,000 pages of messages and videos on the computer. "I was frantic," she said. "I was in the worst state I've ever been in." (Photo by H-L's David Perry)
But Curry, whose daughter is now in college, dealt with the problem and the predator was sentenced in U.S. District Court to 10 years in prison. Thinking about the crimes can be difficult, but "only by shining a light on the problem will we ever hope to find a solution for it," said Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Lou Anna Red Corn. (Read more)