Greenville News Commentary: Protect kids from online predators

October 10, 2016

BY: South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson

As seen in the Greenville News

In South Carolina right now, there are 14,392 registered sex offenders. The sad reality is that these predators are in our state, our cities and even our neighborhoods. As parents, we try to do everything we can to protect our children. However, with the abundance of technology available, predators can reach our children without us ever seeing a warning sign.

It’s often hard to believe that heinous crimes such as human trafficking and domestic violence are happening right here in South Carolina, but it’s true. At the same time, there are predators out there who prey on the most vulnerable victims of all, our children.

More than 10 years ago, it became apparent that the Internet was the new frontier. Much like the Wild West, it’s rapidly growing, constantly changing and difficult to track. Acknowledging this, the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, chaired by the Attorney General’s Office, was created specifically to investigate and prosecute these crimes. Over the last three years, the Task Force has more than doubled in size and now includes 89 agencies in 46 counties across the state. This year alone, they have received 1,535 cyber tips and have made 127 arrests.

Just a month ago, a Rock Hill man was sentenced to 36 years in prison for multiple charges related to Criminal Sexual Conduct with a Minor and Sexual Exploitation of a Minor. For three years, this predator sexually abused a minor victim, beginning when the victim was just 12-years-old. A search of his cell phone revealed numerous videos and images of child pornography, many of which depicted the minor victim.

Another man recently pleaded guilty to multiple counts relating to Sexual Exploitation of a Minor in Lexington County. A cyber tip led investigators to search the defendant’s residence. When forensic examiners from the Attorney General’s Office searched computer equipment taken from his home, they found more than 1.6 million sexually explicit images of children and 11,404 sexually explicit videos of children. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

These are two recent examples of many. While these stories are hard to stomach, it’s proof that these crimes are happening all around us. Many times, these predators use the Internet to connect with victims. Through social media platforms and apps, predators have direct access to connecting with our children. What may seem harmless at first could quickly lead down a dangerous path.

We have made great progress, but there is still much more to be done. Law enforcement not only has to police criminals on the streets, but now has to find ways to catch predators who are using technology to prey on their victims.

The Internet is like a chainsaw. In the hands of someone who understands its power, it can be a powerful, helpful tool. However, in the hands of someone who does not understand or respect its power, it could become a dangerous weapon. That’s why parents must help their children develop responsible Internet habits.

So as parents, what can we do? While we can’t change the behavior of others, it’s our responsibility to equip our children with the guidelines necessary so they can enjoy a positive, safe online experience. The Internet will only continue to grow and become more accessible and invasive. I encourage you to take the time to understand your child’s habits on the Internet and to talk with them about it so they can develop responsible habits. Knowledge is power, and it can help you protect your child from the silent predators lurking online.

Alan Wilson is the South Carolina attorney general. If you know or suspect someone who is involved with child pornography or is sexually exploiting a child, please call the CyberTip line at 1-800-843-5678.

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