GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — Investigators are seeing an increase in internet crimes against children.
“Back early during the pandemic, the FBI actually issued a warning and said our kids are going to be online a lot more, and predators know that,” said Pam Strickland, founder of NC Stop Human Trafficking. She says that FBI warning is now a reality.
“The North Carolina Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force reports they have had almost double the number of calls from 2019 to 2020,” Strickland said.
The pandemic is forcing many kids to do their schooling from home.
“Lack of normal social outlets and the fact that kids are spending more time at home and cannot interact with their normal friend group certainly makes them more vulnerable,” Strickland said.
Frustrations related to school, home and family life are making children more vulnerable.
“And that is exactly the kind of thing predators look for, when a person posts something about having a fight with their parents, or parents just don’t understand me, or I just really miss my friends, or even those kinds of things that make them sound vulnerable, then certainly predators are just going to latch right onto that and say, man I’m feeling like that too, I’ll be your friend,” Strickland said.
Over time, those online friendships can turn into something dangerous.
“And you can go from that to all kinds of things, demanding pictures that start off to be innocent pictures then progress to being more sexually explicit pictures,” Strickland said.
These progressions are part of what experts call “grooming”, the term used to describe how predators make their victims comfortable with their relationship. It also involves keeping their relationship a secret. It can start with online activity, then progress away from the internet.
“And also of course, to the point where the predator may initiate an actual in person meeting,” Strickland said.
That’s what happened with a teenage girl in Davidson County. Deputies say 14-year-old Savannah Childress used her school-issued computer to chat with William Ice, a 38-year-old Pennsylvania man. Investigators said Ice was in touch with several girls before making his way to Davidson County to abduct Savannah.
Police found them at a Mcdonald’s in Arkansas. Investigators surrounded the car then Ice got out and shot at one officer. Another officer shot ICe as he drove away.
Arkansas state troopers chased Ice until he crashed into a snowbank. That’s when Savannah jumped out and ran to the troopers. Ice died from his injuries at an Arkansas hospital.
Advocates have a message for kids who are talking to people online.
“Friends, don’t ask you to do things that make you uncomfortable,” Strickland said. “Real friends won’t do that. Real friends want the best for you.”
Strickland says there’s nothing shameful about asking for help.
“And you don’t need to be embarrassed about telling that person no, and you sure don’t need to be embarrassed about going to your parents or to another trusted adult and say look this is happening to me and I need help,” Strickland said.
NC Stop Human Trafficking is hosting a series of webinars to make parents aware of predatory behavior. You can register below.
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