CLAY COUNTY, Fla. — More sex predators are now hanging out on children’s gaming apps preying on vulnerable kids. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported a 97.5% increase in internet sex crimes for 2020, compared to years before.
In Northeast Florida, local law enforcement agencies also said they are seeing an uptick.
Action News Jax, Meghan Moriarty, spoke with a Clay County mother who said her disabled, 13-year-old daughter fell victim.
“If she was easily manipulated over the internet, I know that somebody can do it in person,” Brittany said. “I don’t want that to happen to her.”
Brittany said her daughter, Kaiilee, was contacted by older men on a gaming app. Her family has lived in Clay County for less than a year. She said her daughter was vulnerable and looking to make new friends. Kaiilee struggles with seizures, ADHD, and she is diagnosed with autism, according to her mom.
“She’s 13,” Brittany explained. “Mentally about 7- or 8-years-old.”
She said she didn’t think twice when Kaiilee wanted to download the game “Tiya Team Up: Time to Play.”
“Come to find out about four days later, it was a gaming app but it had a chat section,” Brittany said. She adds that some of the people reaching out to her daughter appeared to be 20 years old. “It’s kind of when we noticed things were kind of inappropriate.”
One message asked the 13-year-old for naked photos.
“If that’s just happening to my 13-year-old daughter on a child app, I wonder how many other children are being affected,” Brittany said.
Moriarty spoke with an undercover detective for the Clay County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) who specializes in internet crimes against children. In data given to us by the CCSO, there have been about 50 tips about child sex crimes in 2021, so far. In 2020, the department received 154 tips. Those tips lead to 17 search warrants and 21 arrests.
“During the pandemic people are out of work,” The undercover detective explained. “Some people working from home, children at home, a lot parents at home, a lot offenders at home.”
Moriarty asked about how the technology has changed over time when tracking down predators.
“We’ve had to utilize different tools, different forensic software applications,” He explained. “As time goes on, even offenders sometimes get wise to certain techniques. We have to constantly be fluid in the battle.”
In 2020, detectives spend nearly 2,800 hours processing digital evidence leading to arrests, according to the Clay County Sheriff’s Office. The department is also noticing more cases related to video games and apps that have online chatrooms, like the game Kaiilee was on.
“One thing that we tell parents is if it has the capability to communicate with the outside world, with strangers, there is a potential,” He said. “They need to be aware that their child could become a victim.”
The most common apps they deal with, include: Facebook, Instagram, and especially Snapchat.
“Almost every one of them, at some point, we’ve had a case involving those applications,” He said.
His best advice is to have conversations with your kids about the dangers online. If you do allow your child to have apps with chatting capability, monitor it.
Cox Media Group