Christiansburg taskforce cracks down on online predators, July 5, 2015
By Cameron Austin
CHRISTIANSBURG — Sometimes it takes weeks. Other times months. But town police Investigator Moe McClanahan knows exactly what it takes to bait men who lurk on the Internet, waiting to prey on children.
McClanahan, along with Sgt. Curtis Brown, runs the Internet Crimes Against Children task force out of Christiansburg that protects children from dangerous Internet activity and investigates sexual exploitation.
ICAC is a national task force that was created to help federal, state and local law enforcement agencies catch suspects who use the Internet to sexually exploit children. The program, funded by the Department of Justice, is in charge of investigations, raising community awareness and examining forensic evidence on electronic devices.
In the region, McClanahan and Brown say they’ve recently seen a spike in teenagers sharing pornographic images with each other. In the past, McClanahan previously spent significant time doing undercover work, but she says this year has been different.
“As the kids are being more and more exposed to technology, this year almost all of my cases have been in the community — it’s been all our own kids. I don’t think I’ve worked an outside case this year.”
They estimate 90 percent of the cases they’ve seen recently are local file sharing of pornographic images, while the other 10 percent are adults preying on children via chat rooms and other messaging apps.
, both possession
and distribution of child pornography are felony charges. Virginia
“A lot of these young kids are sending inappropriate pictures to people they don’t even know,” Brown said. “The term used to be sexting. Now the term is self-victimization, because they’re victimizing themselves when they do that.”
The investigators point locally to apps such as SnapChat, Tinder and the anonymous messaging app Kik as tools that children are using to chat and send pictures to strangers.
“It’s as young as middle school children,” McClanahan said.
With the increasing technology gap that exists between parents and their children, McClanahan and Brown are working to alert adults to tools and tips that can help monitor their children’s activity.
“These parents are giving the kids the phones and they’re using 10 minutes of talk time a month,” Brown said. “The parents don’t understand that a phone is the last thing kids are using it for.”
Brown, who has a 16-year-old daughter himself, encourages parents to set strict rules and guidelines for phone and computer use — even if that means putting their foot down.
“Parents are worried about invading their children’s privacy, but they have to understand that there are people that are preying on their children,” he said.
While the investigative duo hasn’t set up local stings to catch predators, they caution that men will “absolutely” travel long distances to be with young children. Brown specifically points to the national search for Christiansburg high schooler Aysia Lewis that gripped the region in January.
Donald Bruce Quesenberry traveled from his home in
to pick up Lewis, 16, from school.
The two had never met and only chatted online. After a multiple-day, national
search, Lewis and Quesenberry were found and Lewis was returned home safely.
Quesenberry is now behind bars in Illinois ,
facing a stolen property charge. Arkansas
McClanahan speaks frequently to teenage groups, and tells them, “If you’ve never had them in your home, then you shouldn’t be talking to them on your computer or on your phone.
“The parents need to know what apps they’re using and who they’re talking to,” she says. “They need to educate themselves.”
During the time McClanahan was working undercover operations, she was able to net arrests in
After she reaches a certain stage with the men, she’ll send the case file to
the local prosecutors, who will move forward with an arrest. Investigators in
other localities can use ICAC’s evidence as probable cause to execute search
warrants and bring charges. Virginia
“You get a good feeling from that,” Brown said.
“That’s why you have to go through all the grim and grime of the case — to get to the reward,” McClanahan said.