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Think again before buying your pre-teen a smartphone, child sex investigator says
Salina Journal - 9/13/2017
Parents aren't giving enough thought to the dangers their children are exposed to when they are allowed to have a smartphone, a Wichita police sergeant who investigates child sex crimes said Tuesday.
"You have access to more data in your purse than is contained within the Library of Congress," Sgt. Jeffery Swanson told about 30 people at a League of Women Voters Lunch and Learn event at the Salina Public Library annex. "The computer in your phone is more powerful than the first rocket that went to the moon, yet parents don't think anything of giving it to a 10- or 12-year-old child."
Through contacts made on those phones, Salina children are becoming the victims of sex trafficking, Swanson said. It is a parent's responsibility to monitor a child's phone usage, he said. There should be no such thing as privacy.
"I know for a fact it's happening in Salina because we've recovered Salina girls in Wichita," Swanson said.
Swanson, commander of the Kansas Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, said a flip phone with the ability to text is adequate to keep a parent informed of a child's whereabouts and would do much to keep the child from being exposed to people who would do him or her great harm.
"These people that victimize our children are jeopardizing our future," he said. "It doesn't get any more real than that."
Kids walking out
Swanson said the myth about sex trafficking is that someone sneaks into houses at night and grabs children.
But the reality is "these kids are walking out of your house to meet with these people," he said.
"They're walking out voluntarily because 'This is my boyfriend' or 'This is my girlfriend,' " he said. "They're walking out the door, and they're disappearing - literally disappearing."
Swanson said the target age for sex trafficking is 13 to 15 years old. During weeks or months of online communication or texting, a sexual predator can glean information or convince a child to send compromising photos that can be used as blackmail material later - or immediately uploaded to the Internet.
"Anything you send out you lose control over, and kids don't understand that," he said.
He said a sexual predator who seems to care often can convince a child it's time to meet their online love.
"They're going to spend as much time finding out information about kids as single people do pursuing relationships because that's their interest," he said. "The most I've seen on a warrant we had was a guy carrying on conversations with 60 girls simultaneously because he was looking for the one that would leave the house and meet him."
He said sexual predators can be politicians, cops, doctors, lawyers, construction workers, barbers or from any profession. He said gangs have figured out it's more lucrative to sell girls than drugs, and the sales are accomplished through hundreds of online advertisements on websites like Backpage or Craigslist.
Homemade pornographic videos that feature victims of sex trafficking are on the Internet, and children are being exposed to perversities and convinced that everyone is doing it, Swanson said.
"What we're talking about these kids accessing now is every type of act imaginable and some quite frankly unimaginable," he said. "... We're talking rape, bondage, torture, infant, toddler sex. It doesn't get worse than that. That's what these kids have access to on these phones that we give them."
Kids a commodity
When today's parents were adolescents, they would meet on the playground, pass notes and occasionally sneak out of the house to meet someone, Swanson said.
"I remember sneaking out of the house at age 15 and taking my parents' car and pushing it down an alley," Swanson said. "We did stupid things. We did that because hormones are raging, and generally speaking it was within the confines of our own town. Back then we were in contact with people in our immediate vicinity - the boy at school, the boy on the soccer team, the girl on the cheerleading squad. We knew who those people were."
But there's no way of knowing who children are meeting online or what their intentions are, and children often listen to their online friends more willingly than their parents. He said boys are possibly at greater risk than girls because parents tend to talk to girls more about safety.
"They may be thinking they're talking to Suzie, who is a 15-year-old cheerleader from upstate New York, when they're actually talking to Bob, who is a 45-year-old sex offender in Phoenix, Ariz.," he said. "They may think they're having virtual sex and sending pictures back and forth between each other, and he's got this really cute girl, but he's actually sending pictures to a sex offender who is uploading them onto a server and selling them to a foreign website."
He said children who encounter a sex trafficker "move into a market where they become nothing more than a commodity. These kids are cattle - nothing more than a commodity."
"When I get a lead on a case from New Zealand about an image of a young girl that's hosted on a Russian website that I identify as a child from Haysville, Kan., that's a problem," he said.