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Roo Powell Talks New Season Of ‘Undercover Underage’ Tracking Down Online Predators | #childpredator | #onlinepredator | #sextrafficing

An all-new Season of Undercover Underage will premiere on May 1st on ID. The show follows Roo Powell and her team at SOSA (Safe From Online Sex Abuse) as they work alongside local law enforcement by becoming decoys to lure in child predators. Powell is an award-winning writer, child advocate and founder of SOSA, a nonprofit raising awareness and combating online child sex abuse.

In their second season, the team is working with the sheriff’s office in Canadian County, Oklahoma. Over the course of 8 episodes, they will employ three women to pose as underage girls and adapt carefully curated personas. The team crafts everything from social media profiles to detailed backstories while Powell coaches the women during their phone and online interactions with the predators. Their goal is to identify the ACMs (adults contacting minors) and provide enough credible information to allow law enforcement to step in before these perpetrators can hurt any other children.

Forbes spoke to Powell via email about audience reactions to Season 1 of Undercover Underage. We also discussed how she assists the women who play the role of decoys for the show and the experience of being present for the “takedowns” when the arrests are made.

Risa Sarachan: When last we spoke, you referred to the part of the work you and your team do that we see on the show as sprints. What did this Season’s sprint feel like to film?

Roo Powell: We do sprints outside of what you see in Undercover Underage, but this one was pretty intense over many weeks. You’ll see that the team is bigger. We’ve got more decoys, and many more ACMs. SOSA has also grown as an organization since Season 1, so Jordan (who you get to meet in Season 2) and I were balancing our sprint work with the ongoing initiatives we’re working toward — things like creating prevention resources for our website and providing support to families and survivors who reach out to us for help.

Sarachan: What was the viewer reaction like after last Season?

Powell: The reactions that are most meaningful to me are the ones from people who said, “I watched the show and I realized that the abuse I experienced isn’t my fault.” There was also definitely some incredulity — especially since so many of us didn’t grow up without smartphones. This is what happens online?? I’m joking a bit when I say this, but in some cases, it’s akin to telling someone that aliens have landed.

Sarachan: Did SOSA do anything differently in Season 2 after hearing the reaction to the first season and seeing how things played out?

Powell: Cameras follow us around, not vice versa. When we adjust, it’s for the sake of efficacy or because we have new learnings, or we’re in a state with different laws. I do think the audience is going to really appreciate being able to see law enforcement involvement and how much access and interaction we have with them.

Sarachan: How many arrests were made this Season?

Powell: We feature 16 arrests on Season 2. Of those arrests, five perpetrators have already been convicted, and the other trials are upcoming.

Sarachan: The first two episodes of the new Season are harrowing, and as a viewer, I really felt the stakes that you and your team feel during a search. What was most difficult to film this season?

Powell: I was there for most of the takedowns, and while I always felt safe, there’s something about sweating in Kevlar in a briefing about contingency plans and where the nearest hospitals are that put me on high alert. There’s an adrenaline rush and then an adrenaline crash, but then I realize, “Shoot, we scheduled two takedowns for this day, so get ready for another one.” I don’t even want to think about what my blood pressure was like over the course of those weeks.

Sarachan: The other women who play these young girls do a phenomenal job. How do you work with them before they film and is there emotional support available to them after filming?

Powell: Bringing on other people to do this is probably the worst part of the job for me. Maybe not the worst, but I definitely feel guilt over it. There’s always a price with the work we do, and when it’s just me and my own sanity on the line, it’s one thing. But then I think about the sacrifices others have to make and it all makes me a bit more worried. I am very protective of them, but I also recognize that they are adults who have made this decision freely. They know that by doing this work, they are absorbing the abuse that would otherwise harm an actual child.

They’ve heard me say, ad nauseam, that they can bail at any point. They don’t have to do this. Does a phone call, in particular, feel awful? Hang up on the spot. We’ll figure it out. I also sit right next to them for every video call, and shield them from seeing as much as possible. In one case, an ACM was gratifying himself on the video call with our video off, and I kicked the decoy out of the room, because it wasn’t necessary that she sees that. That said, they’re all very capable women, and we consistently offered support. Therapy is also available to anyone who asks.

Sarachan: Do you feel that cases increased during the pandemic when people were stuck inside with only their technology?

Powell: There were numbers released around this, and yes, I do feel that’s the case. Not only were kids home on their devices — and devices for school! — plenty of perpetrators were also home-bound with time and phones on their hands.

Sarachan: What conversations do you feel parents need to be having with their children?

Powell: I love that some parents watch Undercover Underage with their kids. They use it as a starting point for talking about online safety, and I think that’s great. It’s all so tricky because technology is constantly changing. I’ll often do one-on-one sessions with parents and they’ll realize there’s a new feature to figure out. At SOSA, we try to put out engaging and educational content, so maybe a bargaining chip parents can use when their kids want to be on TikTok is that they have to follow us there and learn a warning sign or two. It’s a household rule for my kids that are on TikTok. We’ve got great creatives on the team, so the content is engaging for tweens and teens, too.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Undercover Underage premieres May 1st on ID.

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