On this Safer Internet Day, it’s all about arming children with the knowledge to protect themselves against online sexual predators.
Once they become a stranger’s social media buddy, they could also become the next victim of sexual extortion.
“The perpetrators groom these children into sending nude photographs of themselves, which turns into them trying to extort them for money or other more lascivious photographs, lewd photographs, more graphic if the children say no I don’t want to do that then they blackmail them and say they’ll post them online,” said Senior Trooper Ricky Jones, of the West Virginia State Police Crimes Against Children Unit. “I’ll send it to your friend’s list on Facebook Messenger.”
If you perpetrate that kind of crime in the mountain state the state police will do everything they can to bring you to justice if they receive a complaint that a child has been sexually exploited for sex, being sold or trafficked — it’s the unit’s job to investigate. Even a child playing with a phone may accidentally take a pic of a private part that gets posted online.
“Those cases we’ll do the administrative subpoenas; find out where their house is, let the parents know. Then other situations we’ll do search warrants for accounts,” Jones said when it comes time the investigation is complete we’ll go do search warrants on the residence, make arrests. “Biggest thing with the state police we want to secure the safety of our children and our young people in the state of West Virginia.”
The past two years the unit received 6,000 tips about sexual cybercrimes against children, and those tips are continuing to grow.
“Surveillance on the house once you figure out where the address is/identifying who the person or persons that may be downloading the child pornography or performing the sexual exploitation,” said Jones. “One case can take up to a month/month and a half to complete. We bargain with the FBI, and other agencies across the state of West Virginia to include sheriff’s departments and city municipalities. We get more and more cases each and every year.”
According to Jones, it’s a lengthy process and many times they don’t know who the child is… They may just have an account number, IP address, a user account and it takes contacting the social media companies with search warrants and subpoenas to figure out who they are.
Senate Bill 466: requires the state board of education to develop safety while accessing technology education programs.
“You have people out there that use the internet, use social media to prey upon victims,” Jones said. “We wanna make schools and make the children aware if you get a message or someone says something inappropriate to reach out to a school teacher, local law enforcement so that way we can stop things before it happens.”
Our youth are the future and Jones says the last thing they want to see is a child’s innocence robbed.
“Parents should have their child’s passcode to their cellphone, should know what apps are on their phone and they should monitor their children’s social media — they should go through it,” said Jones. “It’s not an invasion of privacy; it’s matter of fact just keeping your child safe.”
Jones says he’s arrested school teachers and preachers. Just because someone’s considered a pillar of the community, you don’t know what they are doing behind closed doors. Be wary of anyone you add on social media.
“It’s not hard if I wanted to go find somebody; all I’d have to do is go the Facebook — tells me their city, state, where they live at,” said the trooper. “I would suggest not putting all your information out there on social media.”
He has worked everything from petty theft to murders. On a burglary, jones says he’ll spend two weeks getting the individual’s property back and come court time, sometimes they have a change of heart.
“At least when it comes to crimes against children, this is a way to protect the young and to hopefully stop a perpetrator from harming another child before he’s able to do that,” said Jones. “And you get some justice for the child victims in the state of West Virginia.”