SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – Utah police agencies arrested 30 men during a month-long crackdown on cybercrimes against children in Salt Lake County.
The announcement was made Tuesday afternoon during a press conference with members of the Child Exploitation Task Force, comprised of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.
The 30 arrests are in addition to the 80 cases filed by the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office earlier this year for enticing or coercing a minor or sexual exploitation of a child.
“That’s 110 predators in less than 11 months of our involvement in it, and that was just a very small investment of time that resulted in that,” announced Sim Gill, Salt Lake County District Attorney. “You will be investigated, you will be prosecuted, you will be held accountable and you will be appropriately punished,” he added.
U.S. Attorney for Utah John Huber said offenders are becoming more sophisticated and referred to online chat rooms and social media apps as “hypersexualized” platforms.
“These internet chat rooms and similar platforms are the playgrounds of child predators. It’s where they roll. It’s where they think they will succeed. It’s where they exploit our children,” he warned. “Within moments a chat can go from hello, how are you, to talk of dirty pictures and to talk in arrangements to meet up for sex.”
Huber said calling it child pornography “doesn’t cut the mustard anymore.”
“We need to call it what it is. The recording of the rape of our children.”
“The truth is, that by the dozens, child sexual predators are finding our children, they are sexually abusing them, many times on video, many times on still photographs, and then they are bartering those images like they would all-star baseball cards. It’s ugly. It’s as ugly of a crime that we have in the United States and we need to confront it head-on.”
Special Agent in Charge Paul Haertel also addressed the seriousness of online predators.
“The online enticement of the children can lead to sex trafficking, sexual exploitation, sextortion, kidnapping, rape, suicide, and murder.”
Sim Gill said the goal of ‘Operation Chat’ was to gather data and share it with the community.
With the limited amount of police resources, each law enforcement representative in attendance Tuesday urged parents to help do their part when it comes to protecting children.
“We expect you to step up and protect your children beyond the efforts of law enforcement who will work 24-7, 365. We expect you to match the sophistication of these offenders. As they grow more sophisticated, we expect parents, guardians and interested adults to become more sophisticated themselves in protecting these children,” said Huber.
“The days of when we used to worry about somebody leaving the school and our child being able to safely get home, those are not the predators anymore. The predators are already in our homes and on those digital formats,” Gill said.
“I want every parent and guardian to know what they’re children and teenagers, what websites they’re on and what they’re doing on the internet. To know who they’re talking about, who they’re talking to, where they’re going and who they are going to meet up with,” added Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown.
Internet safety information from SLCPD:
For more tips on how to protect your children and how to start the conversation about internet safety, click here.