FOX 35 INVESTIGATES: Internet sex crimes against children double in Central Florida during pandemic

Detectives who track child predators in Central Florida have a stark warning for families: their caseload has more than doubled since the start of the pandemic. 

“People asking for sexually explicit photos from children online is increasing because kids are spending more time online talking to people who they don’t know,” said Sgt. Justin Shah, Commander of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, or ICAC.

Shah oversees 60 law enforcement agencies and says the number of people viewing and exchanging child pornography in Central Florida has more than doubled since the coronavirus pandemic began.

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He calls it the perfect storm. The demand for explicit content is up and hundreds of thousands of more kids are online all the time. 

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FOX 35 looked through the numbers. 

From March to June in Central Florida, the number of child pornography and exploitation investigations went from 507 last year to 1,198 this year. 

That’s more than double since COVID-19 shut down schools.  

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Detectives say that most people have a misconception that the kids who fall for these online traps are troubled teens. Seminole County Detective Maurice Edwards, who works child sex trafficking cases in Central Florida, says that’s not true. 

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“With girls, it’s more of attention. They tell them how beautiful they are. They can be in a strong parent household and it can happen. It doesn’t have to come from a broken home,” said Edwards. Young boys are also being exploited. “They will target a young boy through video gaming. That’s also a big trend for us. He or she will provide money on their games and then they’ll say you gotta do something for me, can you send me a picture?”

Now more than ever, experts say parents need to check their child’s browsing history daily.  They also need to instill the age-old saying “don’t talk to strangers,” especially online. If you hear your child talking about chatting with a friend out of state or in a different country and you don’t know them, shut the conversation down immediately. 

You can watch educational videos, explaining how predators are manipulating children, on the Internet Crimes Against Children website.

Tune in to FOX 35 Orlando for the rest of the FOX 35 Classroom Survival Guide as schools prepare to reopen.