FBI Agents here in Oklahoma say they have seen an alarming rise in cyber-crimes against children over the last 18 to 24 months which is due, in part, to the pandemic.
Agents are asking parents to be vigilant when it comes to their child's online presence.
"They are the first line of defense,” said Martin.
Investigators said the harsh reality is if your kid has access to the Internet, they could become a target. They warn parents that any platform with a chat feature, whether it’s a video game or social media apps like Facebook, Instagram, Kik, Tik Tok, and Snapchat, can be used as a weapon.
"[They’ll] find the lonely girl that you know is looking for a friend and they will tell her how pretty she is and groom her and then the next thing you know, she's providing pictures of herself naked,” said Martin. "[…] Video game systems where you know a predator will let a potential victim win several times and groom that child. Then the next thing you know the child is posting pictures of themselves naked."
FBI investigators said a simple click can become a predator's key. Supervisor Special Agent Josh Martin said the grooming process targets all kinds of kids.
"They come from the poorest houses to the richest houses. The loner school to the most popular kid," said Martin.
Just recently Martin said a Tulsan uploaded a live video of a naked child while chatting with an undercover FBI agent from out of state. Martin said agents were able to arrest the individual within hours of finding out.
"The information came in that there was an individual here in Tulsa that was chatting online with an undercover FBI agent and during that chat session the individual produced or uploaded a live video of a naked child and within hours after we received that information, we had agents at the house with a warrant. We had that subject in custody. That child was safe. We were able to exploit his digital media, his devices and also identify 4 or 5 other individuals that were located throughout the country that was producing child pornography, as well. Some were producing on their own biological children or stepchildren," said Martin.
Martin said it’s a tough field to work in, but he and his coworkers strive to make this a safe place for our kids.
"Whenever a child is being victimized, you'll have a line out the door. You'll have to tell people to go home. Everybody steps up their game and they'll get the job done,” said Martin.
Martin said there are task forces located all over the country and the world, and the FBI relies heavily on their local law enforcement partners.
Acting US Attorney Clint Johnson said city, state, and federal partnerships are imperative.
"That is integrating all of our resources whether it's a task force, whether it's intelligence, whether it's access to courts and [making] sure that we can get to these individuals that are preying on our children," said Clint Johnson, US Attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma.
Johnson's office said its prosecuted three times as many cases since the supreme court's ruling on tribal jurisdiction. He said his office alone has worked on more than 120 sexual predator cases since the ruling.
"We had 3 consecutive life sentences handed down last week in a case on a child predator for producing child pornography,” said Johnson.
Johnson said his top priority is protecting society's most vulnerable and seeking justice on their behalf.
"If you produce child pornography in the federal system, you're gonna be looking at a mandatory minimum of 15 years in jail. Minimum," said Johnson.
Johnson said every case is different and the more images and videos you have the longer your jail time.
"Individuals will do it until they get caught,” said Johnson.
Johnson told us 60% of the cases dealing with the production of child porn involve someone who was trusted, 40% involve more than one victim, and 81% involve not only production but also sexual contact.
He said the national tip line for child predators had about a million tips in 2014, and in 2020, over 20 million trips were reported.
“Educating the public on this is actually going on will lead to more tips which will lead to more prosecutions, which will hopefully have more of a deterrent effect," said Johnson.