Darkest Secret: Catching child predators by focusing on victims

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — “A case came through my door that is the reason I’m sitting here today. It essentially would change my life forever.”

Jim Cole is the Supervisory Special Agent for Homeland Security Investigations.

“It was one where a young child is being victimized by an adult male and there were several videos released. A colleague in Canada for the first time ever kind of looked behind the crime that was depicted and saw something in the background and said ‘hey, if I could just see that better, maybe we could find out where this is,'” explained Cole.

It was a cup from a small fast food restaurant chain in the U.S.

“For the next year and a half of my life, I would try to find that child,” said Cole.

Cole traveled to Portland, Oregon.

“We could see her face, so we went through every school yearbook in the greater metropolitan Portland area. Thousands. There was one piece of the video that was inaudible, but we could see her talking, so we worked with the school of the deaf to lip read and figure out what she said. Could there be a clue in there?”

The child reported her abuse before detectives could find her but, they were close.

“When we explained some of the things that we did to try to find her, the mom tears welled up and she said ‘I can’t believe you guys did all that that.’ That had an impact on me and I said wow. That was kind of a light bulb moment, right? I think we’re doing this wrong,” said Cole.

He started reviewing old cases looking to rescue victims.

“I went back and pulled those cases out and looked at them with this new perspective. And in doing so, in two of the cases, I found five victims that I’d shoved into the evidence room. They were there for me to find
and those offenders were going to be right back in those kids lives because they were only going to serve 4 1/2 years and get out and those kids are still going to be minors. And that was another gut punch moment for me like ‘geeze how many cases have we done this?'” recalled Cole.

With persistence from Cole, the Homeland Security victim identification program officially launched in 2011, which has since identified and rescued about 9,500 victims.

It’s an impractical tactic Cole wishes police could adopt.

“Our local law enforcement agencies are under-resourced. They’re struggling with people and financially, it’s expensive to work these crimes,” explained Cole.

But, he and his colleagues, are not done brainstorming ways to help with funding.

“That’s what drives me.”

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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