The exploitation of children by sexual predators is a problem growing at an alarming rate in Northeast Mississippi and throughout the U.S.
Sexual predators on the internet: a growing problem
Child protective services, law enforcement, pediatricians and other workers dedicated to public health and safety deal with it on a regular basis. Child abuse is not a new phenomenon, but the Internet has become the means of allowing it to grow exponentially. Of all the Internet viruses, child abuse is perhaps the most diabolical.
Rural areas like Northeast Mississippi have benefited greatly from better access to information and affordable high-speed communications made possible by the Internet. On the other hand, the Internet has also made it easier for predators to locate and exploit victims.
Hollie Jeffery of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Mississippi in Jackson traveled from Jackson to New Albany last week to inform parents about the threat. The meeting was promoted by the public schools and by local law enforcement agencies.
But less than a dozen parents attended the Dec. 5 meeting at the New Albany High School Auditorium. At no time during Jeffery’s fact-filled two-hour presentation were there more than 25 people in the auditorium that seats over 800. That number included law enforcement personnel, public school officials, news reporters, Jeffery herself and other child advocacy professionals.
A mother and father were there with two of their children, but the number of actual parents attending was fewer than ten.
Last year, technology companies reported finding on-line more than 45-million photographs of children being sexually abused. That was more than twice the number found in 2017.
Predators often target photos posted by children
Jeffery said photographs, sometimes nude photos, adolescents post of themselves on-line, using many available “apps,” are hungrily searched by predators seeking victims. The predator may start “chatting” with the child, who may think she is talking with another child.
That most adolescent children now have “smart phones” with full Internet capability increases their vulnerability. Jeffery said parents need to be diligent about how their children are using the Internet. She said, “84% of those targeted for human sex trafficking are found on the Internet.”
New Albany police intercepted potential sexual predator
New Albany Police Chief Chris Robertson described a local case in which a young man was contacted by an adult male. The New Albany child had posted his profile, claiming his age was 18, on a website called “grindr.com.” Grindr.com promotes itself as “the world’s largest social networking app for gay, bi, trans, and queer people.”
The fifty-year-old man drove a considerable distance to New Albany for what he hoped would be a tryst with the child. The man was observed driving hesitantly around the apartment complex where the adolescent boy lived and the New Albany Police Department (NAPD) was called. When questioned by NAPD investigators, the out-of-towner admitted he was HIV positive and had contacted the child through the grindr.com website.
Because the child had lied about his age on the website profile, no charges were filed, and the man was not arrested.
Internet games are targeted sources of victims
Jeffery said games played on the Internet are another venue predators use to target children for “sexploitation.”
Children being sexually exploited via the Internet was the topic of the lead article on the front page of the Sunday, December 8, 2019, New York Times:
“Sexual predators and other bad actors have found an easy access point into the lives of young people: They are meeting them online through multiplayer video games and chat apps, making virtual connections right in their victims’ homes,” said the Sunday Times.
“The criminals strike up a conversation and gradually build trust. Often they pose as children, confiding in their victims with false stories of hardship or self-loathing. Their goal, typically, is to dupe children into sharing sexually explicit photos and videos of themselves — which they use as blackmail for more imagery, much of it increasingly graphic and violent.”
Small town living does not provide safety
The vulnerability of children to predators on the Internet is no less in New Albany than in New York. In fact, children in New Albany and Union County may by more vulnerable to Internet exploitation than those living in large cities. Small towns can give the illusion of safety and wholesomeness. The Internet is no less available to children in rural Northeast Mississippi than to those living in the heavily populated East Coast of the United States.
A children’s advocacy professional drove 200 miles from Jackson to warn and inform people in Union County about the problem last week. Less than ten parents had enough concern about it to show up for the meeting.
For more information on the internet and sexual predators of children: https://childadvocacyms.org/Children’s Advocacy Center of Mississippi, internet predators, New Albany MS, New Albany Police Department