STATEWIDE — Child sex crimes are a growing problem across the United States, including right here in Indiana.
“What I can say, anecdotally and from our local partners is that the number of reports for crimes against children has increased year over year for the past several years,” says Special Agent Andrew Willmann with FBI Indianapolis.
Exact, hard numbers regarding child sex crimes in Indiana are hard to come by. There are some available numbers that paint a picture of the challenge police face each and every day.
“Just for example, the Indiana Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force have reported they received over 7,000 cyber tips last year,” says Agent Willmann, “and the year before, they had just gotten a little over 6,000. So they’re increasing the number of tips they’re getting.”
And that increase in tips has been the story for the past few years. Agent Willmann says this problem is overwhelming for most law enforcement agencies because there’s just so much work to be done, but not enough resources to work with.
According to the United States Attorney’s Office Southern District of Indiana, in 2019, the Southern District of Indiana was second out of the 94 federal districts in the country for the number of child sexual exploitation cases prosecuted.
“That could mean a lot of things,” says Agent Willmann, “I don’t necessarily think that there are more offenders located here or more offenders active here. What I think that means is that law enforcement and prosecutors are working together and putting a real effort into prosecuting all these cases and making sure all these offenders are getting sentences appropriate for their crimes. The Southern District of Indiana is taking this very, very seriously.”
Another challenge law enforcement face is the explosive growth of the Internet. It’s a digital wild west that child predators can abuse and utilize to produce everything from child porn to engage in trafficking or child sextortion. That’s when a predator holds money or sexual material over the child as an advantage to gain whatever they please.
What the Internet provides predators more than anything else is overwhelming access to children.
Agent Willmann explains, “the most likely culprit’s [predator] going to be somebody that has direct access to the kids. Most likely a family member or acquaintance, or somebody that has actual physical access. Well now, unfortunately, with social media that access is now given to every single person on the Internet.”
Predators have access to the same social and digital platforms that children do. Places like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Discord, Kik, and even video games like Roblox, Fortnite, and Minecraft.
That’s why the Indiana State Police Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (ICAC) was established. It’s one of over 60 task forces across the country, designed to investigate Internet sex crimes against children and bring predators into the real world to face the consequences of their actions. But it’s still a challenge for ICAC.
“I mean there are probably ten major social media platforms, but there are hundreds of platforms all together,” says Captain Bryan Harper, Commander of ICAC.
Captain Harper says child sex crimes, both online and offline, is obviously something that everyone wishes they didn’t have to deal with, but it’s also something that he believes this problem won’t completely go away.
But that doesn’t mean police are willing to give up the fight.
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) – Cyber Tip Line is 1-800-843-5678
FBI’s Violent Crimes Against Children Task Force
Indiana State Police
NCMEC NetSmartz Information & Resources
FBI’s Child ID App – a tool for parents
Susie’s Place Child Advocacy Centers Information
Information About Childhood Trauma & Recovery