Since March 16, when Georgia public elementary, secondary, and post-secondary schools ceased in person classes, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s Child Exploitation and Computer Crimes (CEACC) Unit, along with other GBI regional offices, have executed 16 exigent search warrants related to online child sexual exploitation. In addition, the CEACC Unit has assisted other agencies with similar search warrants. As a result, the GBI has arrested 15 individuals for the possession, distribution and/or production of child sexual abuse images. Some of those arrested were also charged with the associated crime of child molestation. Consequently, the CEACC Unit has rescued 8 children from situations in which they were being sexually abused. Other previous child victims were also identified but the offender no longer had access to the child. Some of the offenders subsequently indicated they had numerous undetected victims. It is possible additional victims will be discovered as more interviews are conducted and digital forensic analysis of digital devices occurs. Additional charges and arrests may be forthcoming.
During the unprecedented COVID-19 quarantine, there has been an understandable concern that abused children will be at home more often with their abusers and without contact with mandatory reporters such as teachers who may normally notice abuse indicators or be available to hear and report an outcry by a child. Additionally, as a result of the COVID-19 quarantine, children have been online using various social media applications, chat rooms, and various gaming platforms more often than they were before. Each of these are prime online locations where sexual predators will attempt to solicit conversation with children for the purpose of enticing them for sexual purposes.
While the CEACC Unit executes this mission daily, it is continuing to do so while schools are out to actively work to find and rescue children from those that are sexually abusing them. Instances in which there is a belief that a child is in danger are always acted on immediately. This has not changed during the period of quarantine.
Through cybertips from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), the CEACC Unit and the GBI-coordinated Georgia Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force are able to find children being sexually abused by working investigations involving child sexual abuse images. The large majority of these cybertips contain information reported to NCMEC by Internet service providers. The cybertips are most often related to child sexual abuse imagery, but are many times also related to the online enticement of children, sextortion, and child sex trafficking. Many of these child sexual abuse imagery cybertips involve horrific sexual violence perpetrated on very young children. The demand for this content causes more children to be sexually abused and more abuse material to be created. Additionally, these images stay online forever and the child is revictimized every time someone views their abuse images for sexual gratification.
GBI Special Agent in Charge and Commander of the Georgia ICAC Task Force Debbie Garner commented “we are finding child victims of sexual abuse that we would not have otherwise known about by working these child sexual abuse imagery cybertips from NCMEC – and we will not leave a child in danger.” In 2019, the average number of cybertips received by the GBI from NCMEC was 600 cybertips per month, equating to the receipt of close to 7,100 cybertips in 2019. In March of 2020 alone, the GBI received over 1,000 cybertips from NCMEC. In April 2020, the GBI received almost 1,400 cybertips from NCMEC. By comparison, in April of 2019, the GBI received 587 cybertips from NCMEC. Nationally, NCMEC indicates a 106% increase in reporting when comparing March 2019 and March 2020 report numbers. Cybertip numbers have consistently and markedly risen every year. While this new surge in cybertips has not been confirmed to be as a direct result of the COVID-19 quarantine and children being online more, it is certainly believed to be a factor by those heavily involved in this mission.
In March and April 2020, the Georgia ICAC TF as a whole has made 49 arrests. In 2019, the Georgia ICAC TF made 474 arrests. The Georgia ICAC Task Force is comprised of over 250 local, state and federal law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies and is one of 61 ICAC Task Forces across the United States that work as a cohesive team. The ICAC task forces work diligently to identify and arrest those involved in the child sexual abuse imagery production and trade. The ICAC Program, created by the U. S. Department of Justice, was developed in response to the increasing number of children and teenagers using the Internet, the proliferation of child pornography, and the heightened online activity by predators searching for unsupervised contact with underage victims.
If you would like additional information related to the internet safety education and tips to keep children safe online please visit www.netsmartz.org. If you suspect or have information related to the abuse or exploitation of a child, please call your local law enforcement agency and/or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST or www.missingkids.org.