WHEELING, W.VA. (WTRF) — A child gone missing might be every parent’s worst nightmare… And nationally, the pandemic has groomed another ugly reality – Online child exploitation rates are skyrocketing.
Many are taking to social media, calling for more attention be directed to child sex trafficking… but in our tri-state area federal officials tell me it’s already on their radar and are addressing new cases day in and out.
It’s daily. We’ve got investigations, we get referrals daily.Randolph Bernard, First Assistant to the U.S. Attorney, Northern District of West Virginia
You would think staying in the house is safe, but contrary, with kids cooped up, scrolling the web… studies find that’s when they are MOST at risk for abduction.
In Ohio, Internet Crimes Against Children Unit received a heightened number of cybertips, starting in the spring… when most schools moved from in-person to online.
- January: 649
- February: 866
- March: 1,124
- April: 1,376
- May: 943
It looks the same in West Virginia as it does elsewhere. I mean, we have the perfect storm. We have the online predators, too many, who are online 24/7 doing nothing but trying to groom their next victim. And then, we’ve taken approximately 1.5 billion children and shrunk their world into their homes and their computer screens.Randolph Bernard, First Assistant to the U.S. Attorney, Northern District of West Virginia
Experts say 2020 could see record high numbers of cyber tips reporting online child exploitation.
The number of open cases, the number of opened matters, particularly since March, April, tick up. And again, is that because investigators have concentrated more online, or is that because of an uptick in crime? I think both.Randolph Bernard, First Assistant to the U.S. Attorney, Northern District of West Virginia
Fighting this stat is multifaceted. The taskforce tracks the algorithms, social media sites sniff out and report perpetrators, and parents? It’s time to warn your kids. Stranger danger gets fuzzy online. You don’t know who’s on the other side of the screen. Not only is web a highway for crime, but our area might be an easy spot to be on the run.
We’ve got major interstates that fall every direction from us. And, one thing I said with the Northern District of West Virginia. It’s not hard to have a federal crime in this area, because everybody is traveling in our state.Randolph Bernard, First Assistant to the U.S. Attorney, Northern District of West Virginia
Now children without parents involved in their life might be the most at risk, so as social media continues in heightened awareness surrounding child sex-trafficking, the biggest thing, officials tell me, is educating kids on the dangers of web, like you would with alcohol or smoking.
It might just save some lives.
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