Officials say it could go up even further when COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.
Frederick, Md (KM) It’s been a busy time for the Frederick County Cyber Crime Task Force since it’s formation last year. Speaking at a news conference Monday, State’s Attorney Charlie Smith says since 2019, his agency has prosecuted 54 defendants charged in child sexual exploitation; with seven facing federal charges. That compares to 15 between 2017 and 2019.
“We locally have tripled the tripled the number of child sexual exploitation prosecutions in Frederick,” he says. “And, again, many, many thanks to our federal, state and local partners. We couldn’t do it without them.”
The Cyber Crime Task Force was formed in May, 2019, as a memorandum of understanding between th State’s Attorney’s Office, the Frederick Police, and the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office. Its mission is to investigate, apprehend and prosecute sexual predators who exploit children over the internet.
Lt. Andrew Alcorn with the Frederick Police Department says the Task Force is making a difference. “They’ve allowed us to recover more evidence that we may not have been able to recover, and led to their successful prosecutions, given everyone, especially the State’s Attorney’s Office, evidence that we need to move forward,” he said.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children forwards cyber tips to law enforcement agencies. The Cyber Tip Line reports the number of suspected child sexual exploitation rose from 983,734 in March, 2019, to 2,027,570 in March, 2020. “We are responding to a national crisis,” says Smith. “106% increase. 106% You’re talking about under a million as of March, 2019, increased a year later to over 2-million. And that is pre-COVID.”
He also said that could continue to go up after the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, kids go back to school; and start reporting sexual abuse to trusted adults. “They report to teachers. They report to counselors. They report to coaches. So once they get back to school, I really believe you’re going to see a huge increase in reporting of regular child abuse cases as well as suspected child exploitation cases.”
That comment was echoed by Matt Vilcek with the FBI office in Baltimore. “In the midst of this pandemic and virtual schools, the scary truth is on line predators are more active now then they ever have been.” he said. “We’ve experienced a tremendous increase in the number of cyber tips and complaints coming in.”
Because of this huge increase, Sheriff Chuck Jenkins says the agency may need to add investigators. “Right now, I think we’ve got four up there. I see this growing to maybe double the size in the next couple of years. You have my commitment. We’re a part of it,”: he said.
Part of the job of the Cyber Crime Task Force is to push for additional state legislation to crack down hard on these people who use the internet to prey on children. Smith says one piece of legislation which passed included the words “lascivious exhibition” in Maryland’s child pornography laws.
In 2021, the Task Force will be arguing for stronger penalties for first-time offenders before the Maryland Commission on Criminal Sentencing Policy. “First time offenders are far too often granted probation before judgement. Given the high recivdism rate among sex offenders and the severe trauma these young victims endure, we simply must do more to protect our children from predators,” Smith said.
By Kevin McManus