NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – The COVID-19 pandemic has had disturbing effects on sex crimes against children. Investigators told News 2 stay-at-home orders and virtual schooling have allowed predators to sexually victimize youth at an alarming rate.

America has a first-place title no one can be proud about. “We are the world’s, I would say, largest creator of child sexual abuse material,” said Nicholas Christian, Assistant Special Agent in Charge with Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, as he referred to the amount of new child pornography circulating around the world.

Christian added the stay-at-home order issued last year changed the dynamic of the child porn industry.

The topic is difficult and uncomfortable to discuss, but it’s a reality everyone must face in order to protect children, said Assistant District Attorney for Sumner County, Jenni Smith.

“When everyone was quarantined for COVID, when all the kids went back to school, our DCS referrals of child rape went up drastically,” said Smith.

Some of those crimes were documented by predators. It’s Smith’s job to review the children’s stories and examine every image and video to determine criminal charges.

“The videos are typical of prepubescent children engaging in sexual activity,” she said. News 2 asked, “We’re talking about a video of a rape in progress…of a child?”

“Correct,” she answered.

The heinous acts may last anywhere from a few minutes to a full half-hour, according to Smith.

📧 Have breaking come to you: Subscribe to News 2 email alerts

“Some of these children, you can tell, they are in pain, and there are other children who don’t know any better,” she continued, “You can tell that there’s somebody in the background instructing these children how to act out on each other. Those are probably the worst ones that I’ve seen.”

This prolific problem has been masked during the pandemic, but it is now coming to light in Middle Tennessee.

“The names that come across my desk come from a wide stratum of society. It doesn’t matter how much money you have. It doesn’t matter what kind of job you have. It does not matter,” Smith said.

Fixing the problem, she said, starts with community recognition of the issue.

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.