Online sexual predators found throughout Idaho, not just in big cities

jsowell@idahostatesman.comJune 21, 2014 

— A few months ago, a 17-year-old Meridian girl was reported missing.

People often assume a teen who disappears has run away from home.

Not in this case. The girl was abducted and for 78 days was forced to ingest drugs, was sexually abused and made to perform sex acts for money. And all from within her own neighborhood.

“And she lived in a nice neighborhood,” Dawn Maglish, an Eagle activist who works on behalf of exploited children and adults, told a small gathering Saturday at Emmett’s Community Bible Church.

Earlier this year, a man posing as a modeling executive was arrested after being accused of recruiting two young women at an Idaho shopping mall and forcing them into prostitution in Portland. Another man was arrested after allegedly bringing a woman from Portland to Idaho to perform sex acts for pay.

The forum, which also featured Victor Dominguez, chairman of the Idaho Internet Crimes Against Children Coalition, was organized by Flora Gertsch, 18, a senior at Calvary Christian Academy in Emmett. When Gertsch posted handbills around town, she received a couple of calls from people who were confused.

“They were shocked that I was putting on something on that topic here,” Gertsch said.

Dominguez told the audience that abuse and exploitation happens everywhere, including the seemingly quiet farm and former lumber town of 6,516.

In the past year, Dominguez said, two Emmett residents were arrested for sexual exploitation of children through the Internet. One thought he was chatting online to a 13-year old girl that in reality was a police detective. The other was a respected computer professional who was trolling for victims online.

“Am I badmouthing Emmett? No,” said Dominguez, a retired Los Angeles area detective who retired to Idaho. “I’m just telling you that this community is vulnerable to this kind of activity, as are all communities.” The number of photos and videos of children on the Internet, some as young as babies, being sexually abused has skyrocketed, Dominguez said.

The Center for Missing and Exploited Children said by May it had reviewed 112 million files containing images of child sex abuse. Back in 2002, in contrast, the center reviewed and confirmed 45,055 examples of obscene images of children found online.

Last year, the federal Department of Homeland Security conducted more than 4,000 investigations into online sexual abuse. Since 2003, Operation Predator has sought to rescue abused children, prosecute the perpetrators and stop the trade in obscene images. During the past six months, 1,000 suspects across the globe have been arrested through those investigations.

Still, it’s a tough job, Dominguez said. Only 5 percent to 8 percent of child sex abuse cases are ever reported. And, on average, a child sex abuser violates 20 victims before police are notified.

With law enforcement resources stretched thin, there is only one detective available statewide to investigate every 1,000 leads, Dominguez said.

More than 34,000 Idaho children receive sexual solicitations every year, he said. That makes it vitally important for parents to know what websites their children visit and who their kids chat with online.

Children have no business being in a chat room, one of the most common places where predators lurk, Dominguez said. And kids should not be chatting with anyone they don’t know personally.

He suggests parents install online protection software, that they become computer literate, that they keep computers in a common area in the home and not allow children to be alone with a computer in a bedroom and that they bookmark their children’s favorite websites for easy parental access.

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