BEDFORD COUNTY, Va. – As people move more of their lives online, predators are doing the same, which means investigators with the Southern Virginia Internet Crimes Against Children Taskforce (SOVA-ICAC) are busier than ever.
Just over a week ago, one of those cases led to an Amber Alert for an abducted 12-year-old Henry County girl that all stemmed from social media.
“We saw a huge increase at the beginning of 2020 because of the pandemic,” said Bedford County Sgt. Stephen Anders, an assistant commander for SOVA-ICAC.
Anders said lockdowns and moving to virtual learning opened up a huge opportunity for predators and the numbers prove it. Tips skyrocketed 72% from 2019 to 2020.
At the peak, the task force was getting more than 500 tips a month. Now the average is about 400.
“Very concerning because we know this isn’t all of them. We see a huge number coming through our office and that’s just the surface,” Anders said.
Tips come from the public and online companies like Google, Facebook and Snapchat, monitoring for suspicious activity.
“Generally we see child pornography cases where the offenders are communicating with the child and they’re soliciting that child for nude or explicit images or videos or just getting on a live webstream,” Anders said.
By the time these cases reach law enforcement, Anders said they’re playing catch-up, so it’s up to parents to be proactive by setting boundaries, encouraging open conversation and starting young.
“It comes down to not prohibiting use of the Internet, not prohibiting use of certain apps and technology but teaching the children how to use it safely,” Anders said.
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