A massive sex sting operation resulted in nearly two dozen arrests, sparking new fears about what is lurking on the internet.
A task force of officers posed as children in the sting and met most of the suspects online on the so-called “dark web.” The suspects agreed to meet, ultimately leading to their arrests.
“We want to make sure we know what our kids are doing online and who they’re talking to,” said Gayle Hartwell, with Voices for Children in Flint.
Hartwell works to combat child abuse.
On Sunday, Genesee County Sheriff Robert Pickell announced 22 suspects had been arrested for going on the “dark web” and soliciting kids for sex.
Hartwell said the dark web could be hidden in plain sight on popular apps.
“The apps you need to be concerned about online are Tik Tok, Kik, Omegle, Discord,” Hartwell said.
Hartwell said while Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat are always popular for abuse, less popular ones get by many parents who don’t realize predators are lurking there.
“Do your research. Look online. Look on Google. Take a class at your local police department if you have to. Make sure you’re educated,” Hartwell said.
Hartwell said there are a variety of options and even apps for parents to take control of their kids’ internet activity. There are options that allow parents to link their phones up to their children’s devices and see what they are doing in real time before it’s too late.
“I would say 100 percent of what we see right now is luring the victims online,” said Paula Archambault, family therapist.
Archambault said it’s not always the children getting tricked either. Sometimes the human trafficking can actually start with an unaware parent.
“Sometimes they even lure the parent in by promises of buying them gift cards and things for their kids,” Archambault said.
Hartwell said it’s the parent’s responsibility to keep their kids safe. That means making sure they are being looked after while using the internet and social media.
“Be vigilant and check your kids’ phones. Make sure they’re protected,” Hartwell said.
Collectively, the suspects in the most recent case of soliciting children could serve more than 1,000 years behind bars.