As we navigate the COVID-19 crisis, the internet has been like a lifeline for many, offering opportunities to work from home and stay connected to friends and family.
However, the internet also has a very dark side. Law enforcement says they’ve seen a spike in the amount of child pornography cases during this pandemic.
“The internet changed the whole world when it became widespread and it helped us in so many ways, but there’s a dark side to it too,” US Attorney for Middle Tennessee Don Cochran said.
Cochran says that dark side is being exploited even more during the pandemic, and an uptick in child pornography cases has them worried.
“These predators can use Instagram or Facebook or any online presence can be used, so it’s not so much the platform as it is the activity,” Cochran said.
Cochran says an undercover investigation revealed 19-year-old Caleb Jordan of Mt. Juliet enticed at least eleven young boys to send him sexually explicit videos, which he then sent to others.
“The Jordan case was interesting because we came on to it in two different ways, one of which was four sets of concerned parents who contacted the Wilson County Sheriff’s office,” Cochran said.
Unfortunately, this is a very common way for predators to take advantage of kids according to expert attorney Carol Hepburn.
“People go to the places children are attracted to. It used to be a park. It used to be a schoolyard. Now, it’s any number of websites online that have things that are attractive to children. You cannot assume that just because your child is sitting next to you that he or she is safe,” Hepburn said.
Hepburn has made it her life’s work to fight for justice for these victims because she says they go through life long mental torture many of us couldn’t even imagine.
“If you’re a victim where images or videos are put online, they’re out there for the world to see, you never know who around you is actually downloading and looking and pleasuring themselves with those images,” Hepburn explained.
She says today, where there’s such a value on internet privacy, that’s actually made it more difficult to track down and prosecute these predators.
“That also allows the people who would share these images, and some of this is live streaming these days, made to order child sex abuse images. It would allow these people to go ahead and continue what they’re doing in a cloak of secrecy and protection,” Hepburn said.
Heinous acts that can really only be prevented by extreme vigilance where parents are being involved and aware of their child’s online activities to protect them from the worst.
“What we’re talking about are not child glamour photos, you know, little girls dressed up with hair and makeup, it’s not babies in a bathtub. They’re crime scene photos. These are pictures of children, toddlers, being raped, bound and gagged, being tortured really, sexually,” Hepburn stressed.
Cochran says they’re still looking for more potential victims of Jordan’s. If you know that you’re child has had contact with him, contact law enforcement immediately.