Darkest Secret: Criminals find success exploiting children on social media without ever physically touching them

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Sex crimes against children are often premeditated, methodical and sometimes the relationships take years to form.

“There’s some justification for what they are doing – the child smiled at me, the child loves me, the girl is wearing this outfit, she was flirting with me. They can easily make it about the child coming on to them rather than them pursuing their own interests,” explained physcologist Dr. Donna Moore, Physiologist, Moore Psychology Services PLLC.

This distortion of reality allows pedophiles to justify their behavior.

“The bad guys are constantly in chat rooms trying to get these kids to create this content,” said Nicholas Christian, Asst. Special Agent in Charge, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

Investigators want parents to know this type of online exploitation of children is a growing trend.

“We see a significant amount of cases where the offender and the victim may actually never interact in the real world it’s all virtual. but the abuse is no less horrific,” said Homeland Security Supervisory Special Agent Jim Cole.

Crimes happening in Middle Tennessee.

“I can tell you about a case in the local area. A family contacted me and talked about how their young teenage son had met with what he thought was a girl online. She had sent, and opened up, what he thought was a live camera and showed herself engaging in sexual conduct he returned in kind,” explained Cole.

The disgusted predator promised not to record.

“As soon as that happened, and that activity was done, almost immediately the person on the other end doesn’t need to be the 13 year old girl anymore, now they’re an adult male and now they’re extorting this child. They’re telling this child that unless this child engages in more activity even brings in a younger sibling or neighbor into the activity, they’re going to send that video that they just took to their parents, their school,” said Cole.

The threat is real.

“They know all the accounts, they know all the friends, so it’s very easy for them to distribute that material out and say ‘hey, go look at this,'” said Cole.

It’s a tactic those close to the crime have seen time and time again.

“Boys who are struggling, and they aren’t sure if they’re gay or not, will maybe go online because that seems safe and that’s really a vulnerability,” said Dr. Moore.

Investigators have seen first-hand the impact on families.

“I have parents literally talking about packing up the house and moving to another state because just the victimization the embarrassment the trauma. How could their kid every go back to school again and face their peers who have now seen this video? How can the family go to church?”

The mental anguish lingers long-after the crime ends.

“The trauma that that causes, it completely upends a family’s life,” said Cole.

Talk to your children about these dangers and install a parental monitor and control app on their devices.

News 2 investigates the alarming crime trend now coming to light in Middle Tennessee after the COVID-19 pandemic. In a special report, Darkest Secret, learn more about the fight to stop child pornography and what it truly entails – Click here for our special reports.

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