More than 27 million unique files of child sexual abuse material were reported last year. 59 percent were of children who were prepubescent. 8 percent were of infants or toddlers.
By CRISTINA JANNEY
Amy was 12 years old when a sex trafficker started grooming her online. She was a star softball player in Spring Hill, Kan. He said he was her age.
He was so nice, she said. She met him in person and got the shock of her life when she realized he was a 21-year-old sex trafficker from Olathe.
She still lived at home with her dad and mom, who was a stay-at-home mom, but her trafficker was selling her seven to 10 times a week. She never told a trusted adult.
When she was 14, the traffickers killed a little dog in front of her and told her if she didn’t come with them the same thing would happen to her dad. She went with them and officially became a runaway.
She tried to escape many times. She became addicted to drugs and alcohol to cope. By the time she was 21, her heart had given out and she had to have an artificial heart implanted. She died in 2021, leaving a young son.
Before Amy died, she insisted that Russ Tuttle of the Stop Trafficking Project tell her story, say her name.
“I want my life to have meant something,” she told him.
Tuttle spoke to an adult audience Sunday night at the Beach Schmidt Performing Arts Center in Hays. Tuttle will be giving age-appropriate presentations to youth in the public and Catholic schools in Ellis County this week.
Kids feel fear and shame, Tuttle said, and that’s why they don’t tell.
Child sex crimes, sex abuse material and domestic minor sex trafficking are increasing in Kansas. 2021 was the worst year on record for online sex abuse, he said.
There was a three-fold increase of self-generated images of children 7 to 10, he said. That is children taking their clothes off and sending naked pictures.
“At the Stop Trafficking Project, it is our vision is to end domestic minor sex trafficking before it starts,” he said, ” by disrupting the exploration of vulnerability. …
“My heart is that a student will never need to be rescued by law enforcement,” Tuttle said. “Our heart is that a student will never need to be examined by a sexual assault nurse examiner.
“Our heart is that a student will never experience such severe trauma that they now require a lifetime of housing and public assistance and trauma-informed therapy. Our heart is to function on the very front end of this crisis.”
After a student assembly in another community, a sixth-grade girl came up to Tuttle with tears in her eyes and showed him the bruises on her neck where her eighth-grade boyfriend had choked her out while having sex the day before.
The boy, who had started watching porn when he was in the second grade, thought this was normal. He had recorded the act on a cell phone. Within 24 hours of the act, that eighth-grade boy had been approached by 37 adult men who were trying to figure out how to pay the eighth-grade boy to sexually assault that sixth-grade girl.
“That’s sex trafficking,” Tuttle said.
The United States far outpaces every other country in the world in its porn usage, according to Pornhub. The United States consumes more than double the next country on the list, which is the United Kingdom.
The average age of exposure to porn is between 8 and 11, Tuttle said. Eighty-four percent of porn is viewed through a cell phone, according to Pornhub. Even if your child doesn’t have a cell phone, they have a friend who does, Tuttle said.
One of the pervasive ideas about sex trafficking is that young kids are being snatched off the street by a person in a scary vehicle. Tuttle said that is very rare and is a very narrow view of what trafficking can be.
One hundred percent of sex trafficking today is coming through digital devices, almost all of them cell phones, he said.
The initial contact and grooming usually come through an app that has some kind of chat function, he said.
Tuttle said the youngest child he’s encountered who was on Tinder, which is an adult hook-up app, was in the second grade. Seventeen adult men, who all knew she was in second grade, had asked her to take off her clothes and send them naked pictures of herself.
An eighth-grade boy in Missouri convinced 80 girls in junior high to take naked pictures of themselves. He created an app and was selling the pictures to adult men for $25 each. His goal was to sell the girls in person. That ring was disrupted before those in-person interactions happened.
“… people online want to harm kids’ brains and their minds, so they can later harm them in person,” Tuttle said.
All the crimes of sex trafficking come down to three words — exploration of vulnerability, Tuttle said.
“This is the loneliest generation that has ever lived on planet Earth,” he said, “yet they are the most connected.”
Kids can find out on social media they didn’t get invited to the party and what other kids are saying about them. Depression is skyrocketing among youth, Tuttle said.
“Perverts, predators and pimps love this,” Tuttle said. “When in the process of grooming if a kid is lonely, isolated and depressed and wondering in life if they are even important, they pounce on that.”
They are extremely kind or extremely controlling, he said.
“We don’t let these people in our homes, but we don’t know what our kids are doing online or we don’t know how to know what our kids are doing online or we say, ‘not my kids,'” Tuttle said.
The perverts, predators and pimps start by casing children online. Tuttle showed a video from a woman who had been lured into sex trafficking when she was a child. She met the predator through an online book club.
“Then the grooming started, because he found her weaknesses,” Tuttle said.
“What I hear all the time from kids is ‘He’s so nice. She’s so nice. They’re so nice,'” Tuttle said.
More than 27 million unique files of child sexual abuse material were reported last year. Fifty-nine percent were of children who were prepubescent. Eight percent were of infants or toddlers, Tuttle said.
Two sixth-grade girls independently of each other came to Tuttle after a school assembly and said they were engaging in online sex during school hours on school-issued Macbooks. Both girls said they had plans to meet these “boys” that weekend in-person. They were actually all adult male registered sex offenders.
“We ended it before it started,” Tuttle said.
“If we go into schools and tell the truth about this to kids, when we appeal to the hero in kids in a space that is very near and dear to them, it’s amazing to watch them step up.”
Predators infiltrate any number of apps and groom children. Tuttle mentioned Snapchat, Blender and TikTok.
You can find a list of 100 problematic apps through the Stop Trafficking Project app, which is available for download for free for Apple and Android devices.
People upload images to Blender and others rank them as hot or not hot. Two 12-year-old girls at the same school uploaded naked images to the app. One was ranked as “hot,” but within 30 minutes she was being body-shamed and exploited online. She was suicidal.
The second girl was ranked as”not hot.” She was also suicidal.
“This is where kids live. We better figure it out,” Tuttle said.
Tuttle said TikTok was the worst app on the market in terms of child safety.
“This is where they are learning how to die by suicide,” he said. “This is learning the latest self-harming techniques such as cutting and burning. This is where they are learning dangerous diet fads to lessen the pain of the seductions they are facing online.”
Seven-year-old Jessy had no technology of her own. Her mother set a timer for 15 minutes and allowed her to get online on her phone. In that short time, a grown man who said he was her age, tried to get Jesse to take a picture of herself with her shirt off and send it to him.
He said it would be their secret.
Her father was a law enforcement officer. He ended the chat before his daughter sent the image the man requested.
When Tuttle does presentations for young children, he shares with them to not keep secrets and to go to a trusted adult and ask for “screen help,” if they encounter something online that makes them feel uncomfortable.
Predators will lie about their age and send fake photos. They appeal to a child’s fantasy of love.
A ninth-grade boy told Tuttle that a “smokin’ hot” woman sent him naked photos and asked him to send her naked photos of himself. He sent pictures and videos. Within an hour he had multiple messages that if he didn’t pay $1,000, they were going to make him famous on the Internet.
The boy stole his dad’s credit card and paid $18,000 before his disclosure. Tuttle said if that happens to your child, never pay. The photos are going to be circulated anyway.
“We are not arguing with kids. We are arguing with their fantasy,” he said.