BEND, OR -- The Deschutes County District Attorney’s Office reports a recent rise in online crimes targeting children. Predators often try to get minors to send them explicit photos of themselves. Lead Deputy D.A. Matt Nelson tells KBND News it’s important to track down suspects quickly. "The Sheriff’s Office, in particular, has just recently created a new position where they will have a dedicated detective to work nothing but tips that relate to internet crimes against children. And those tips, they come from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children." He says all local law enforcement agencies have dedicated digital forensics detectives working at the digital lab at the Sheriff’s Office. But this is the first time one has been specifically assigned to cases involving kids, "They receive those tips from electronic service providers like Google and Facebook, and things like that. And then they do a preliminary investigation and refer it to local agencies. So, the Sheriff’s Office will have a dedicated detective that’s going to do nothing but work those cases."
Nelson says parents need to be vigilant about their children’s online activity. "It really is all ages. I mean, anytime once the child can access the internet and start engaging in conversations in social media, they’re potential victims out there." He urges parents to talk with kids about the importance of only chatting with people they know in real life. There are also resources available to help, "The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, they have a new initiative now, called the Take it Down initiative, that’s aimed at assisting young people in removing photographs online that they don’t want out there. And they’ve partnered with different websites like Facebook, Instagram Only Fans, TikTok, things like that, to remove those photographs."
Nelson believes isolation from COVID pushed more kids online. Nelson says there’s also been an increase in teens struggling with suicidal thoughts because of the threats and pressure they face from online predators.