NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – FBI Assistant Special Agent in charge of the Nashville agency, Matthew Foster says it’s much easier today for child predators to find victims. “Now a person doesn’t have to wait in a park or a public place to try to find a victim. The victimization can occur while you’re sitting next to your child,” said Foster.
A simple swipe of the phone and they’re connected.
“The pervasiveness of these devices that permit access to children by bad actors is at a level that we’ve never seen before.”
Detectives Michael Adkins and Robert Carrigan, with Metro’s Internet Crimes Against Children Unit, agree with Foster. They think most parents are in the dark on common social media sites being a breeding ground for bad behavior.
But more and more, authorities see predators using tactics to ‘groom’ their victims.
“I don’t think the children initially recognize that they’ve been sucked into that,” said Carrigan.
“It would start with, Hey. You’re the same age as me,” Foster added. “When in reality, this person is not.”
During the grooming process, the suspects create common interests with the child and form a relationship. “The child victim feels like they’re friends. They think – I know them online – we’ve been talking for weeks,” Carrigan explained.
Predators will wait until trust is established before making a request.
“There are some kids, tragically enough, who don’t see anything wrong with sending pictures to a stranger,” Foster said.
And, predators share that information. “Our suspects have also communicated with each other about different techniques or about where to go to find better material,” Carrigan said.
Many children, teens included, don’t realize exploitation lasts a lifetime.
“Once that image is sent somewhere else there’s no getting it back,” Det. Michael Adkins added. “There’s no getting it off the internet.”
Law enforcement officials say protection starts with parents.
“If they would pay attention to what they’re kids are doing on their phones, it would solve a lot of the problems at the beginning,” Adkins said.