Back-to-school warning: online sexual predators continue to victimize children
CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - As the new school year begins, you may want to think twice before posting photos and videos of your kids on social media.
What if those images get into the hands of a predator?
19 Investigates spoke with the local leaders of a statewide task force who warn they see a spike in cyber tips for online sexual predators this time of the year.
We also found a social media movement is encouraging parents to take a second look at what they’ve already posted online.
Many parents are now deleting photos and videos of their own kids online after the “Wren Eleanor movement” started on TikTok.
Three-year-old Wren has more than 17 million followers on the video app.
Her mom Jacquelyn runs her account and posts innocent photos and videos on it.
Many of her TikTok followers became concerned after they noticed thousands of followers were saving some of those videos, especially ones of Wren wearing a crop top and eating certain foods, according to several reports.
They worried the people saving these images were child predators.
In this video, Wren’s mom says she checked with the FBI and nothing she posted has been found on inappropriate websites.
“If these false rumors have forced parents to rethink what they post of their children on social media, that is a good thing,” she said in the video.
But this can be a good reminder, experts say, that what seems like an innocent post by you or your child can give a lot away.
“If there’s there’s predators out there and your account’s public, they can see what you’re doing, from the first post, the second post, to up until where you are at night and I don’t think children realize that you’re posting every bit of your day and you’re telling people where you are every moment of the day,” said
Fallon Radigan, Ohio ICAC task force supervisor and assistant prosecutor at the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office.
The task force has seen a dramatic increase in cyber tips coming in from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
19 Investigates also spoke with Dave Frattare, the statewide commander of Ohio ICAC, which stands for Internet Crimes against children.
“As we see more kids, you know embrace the virtual world, as we see more adults go, you know work from home, we then see more offenders who are starting to use technology as well and it’s a perfect storm,” Frattare said.
We found before the pandemic, Ohio ICAC was getting 700 to 800 cyber tips a month.
But starting in 2020, that jumped to about 1,000 a month or higher.
And it has stayed that high ever since.
We crunched the numbers and found cyber tips coming into Ohio ICAC are up so far this year compared to last year.
In 2021, the task force reported 12,481 cyber tips came into ICAC.
That averages just over a thousand tips a month.
So far in 2022 through July, they’ve gotten 9,848 cyber tips, averaging about 1,400 tips a month.
“We’ve said for years that you really need to think before you post. I mean in everything that you do whether it’s an image, whether it’s a comment, think about how that post is gonna affect not only you but your children, your family, your close friends. What’s in that image or video that identifies your household, your business, something that has to do with your family and how that’s going to put your children at risk,” Frattare said.
They said prevention comes down to educating yourself, being familiar with the apps they’re using and paying attention.
“If your children are on these websites, I think you need to know what that entails and who they are talking to and if they’re taking photos and videos, what are they taking videos of?” Radigan said.
Ohio ICAC has made 189 arrests statewide so far in 2022.
That averages out to 27 arrests a month, about the same as last year.
The task force identified 177 child victims in 2021 and has identified 40 so far in 2022.
Frattare said that number can fluctuate for several different reasons and may rise between now and the end of the year.
And the amount of evidence they have sifted through is astounding.
In 2021, Ohio ICAC examined 448,303 gigabytes of forensic evidence data.
From January to July of 2022, the task force examined 239,327 gigabytes.
You can report suspected online child predators and learn more about ICAC here.
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