BULLHEAD CITY–With the growing use of smart phones among children, the concern for sexual predators hiding behind false names and the promise of a “budding” relationship is also on the rise.
It is why one local group is making it their mission to help keep youth in Mohave County safe from the clutches of sexual predators.
Arizona Predator Prevention is based out of Fort Mohave and began under the direction of a concerned mother with a teenage daughter. The group also includes several local citizens with the same mission of putting sexual predators behind bars.
“We want to educate our kids about the safety of using social media apps and to help them learn the signs of when a predator may be “grooming” them. It’s not just about cyber bullying anymore, it is about sick individuals trying to prey on kids in our town,” said the founder of APP. “What is sad, is that it also involves sex trafficking. These men, and sometimes women, get on these popular apps and act like they are the child’s friend. They start off friendly by fishing for information like how their home life is, do they have close friends, what they do for fun. Over time, it turns into a more sexual conversation. The predators will ask for a nude photo and it escalates from there. It never stops.”
According to APP, there are about 42 different social media apps used to lure children ages 10 to 17 years old.
“The one we see a lot of activity on is Scout and Whisper. But, that doesn’t mean they aren’t on all the other apps. We have heard they use Snapchat, Instagram, Kik and devices like, Playstation’s, Xbox and, most recently the game, Fortnite.”
In September, the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office said during an undercover sting they had arrested 24 men who reportedly used Fortnite and Minecraft gaming applications to lure minors.
Although APP has yet to have a confirmed arrest, the group have reportedly uncovered several people within the community who have allegedly made attempts to meet up with a minor for sex.
Recently, one of the groups confrontation was played out live on the group’s Facebook page.
“This guy had (allegedly) carried on a conversation with a supposed 15-year-old girl. He sent her some nude photos and wanted to meet up with the decoy for sex. He even agreed to meet the teen outside a Bullhead City store.” the founder said. “It is a sick case and what this guy wanted from this girl was disgusting. However, its not our sickest one we have seen. We are currently working on one as we speak.”
APP said all evidence and documents involving the case were handed over to the Bullhead City Police Department last week. Police spokeswoman Emily Fromelt confirmed the report and on Monday stated the Mohave County Attorney’s Office had declined to pursue any charges against the subject.
Mohave County Attorney Greg McPhillips said the reasons behind not pursuing charges on this case, and those uncovered by the group in the future, come down to concerns regarding evidence, bias and safety.
“I don’t think working with any private entity like this one can guarantee a successful prosecution. We have to have quality assurance that the cases we prosecute can be done with confidence. We have to make sure the evidence can be presented in court with any doubt of its collection, such as cellphones, emails and phone records. Unfortunately, with a private group we don’t have that like we do when it is conducted by law enforcement,” said McPhillips.
McPhillips pointed out that his office has handled several computer crimes over the years and believes when investigations like this are conducted by a police officer, the chance of securing a conviction is higher than a case investigated by a private group.
“We can’t guarantee to a jury how reliable the evidence is, if the person(s) conducting the undercover investigation has some bias against the defendant and most importantly, safety,” said McPhillips. “We have to make sure there is no entrapment or someone with an ax to grind. We aren’t against prosecuting those who commit these types of crimes, its that we have some powerful concerns behind not taking on these private group cases.”
However, the APP group disagrees with McPhillips.
“Our team thinks its disgusting that they aren’t doing anything,” said APP. “They have a free resource and we would love to work with them. This person (allegedly) sent porn to what he believed was a minor and in the state of Arizona, I was told, it is a felony to send porn to anyone that you believe is a minor.”
Another member of APP said it was upsetting that these predators won’t face prosecution, especially when it hits close to home.
“This happened to my 12-year-old granddaughter years ago and nothing was done at that time either. She is an adult now, but the guy speaking with her was grooming her for a lot more.”
According to the National Crimes Against Children website, three out of four teens access the internet by use of a cell phone, tablet or other mobile device. Other online crime statistics showed:
- One in five teens reported unwanted sexual solictation via the internet.
- 75%were willing to share personal information online with strangers, in exchange for goods or services.
- 25% of children have been exposed to unwanted pornographic material online.
- Only 33% of households with Internet access are actively protecting their children with filtering or blocking software.
- Only 25% of children who encountered a sexual approach or solicitation told a parent or adult.
- One in 33 youth received an aggressive sexual solicitation in the past year. This means a predator asked a young person to meet somewhere, called a young person on the phone, and/or sent the young person correspondence, money, or gifts through the U.S. Postal Service.
- 77% of the targets for online predators were age 14 or older; while another 22% were ages 10 to 13.
“We just want to keep our kids safe in this community and we will continue doing what we are doing. These men need to be exposed and charged. Some of them are so persistent when they think they are speaking with a young girl. It is disgusting,” said APP. “We’d like to help get the word out to teens by giving presentations at schools or town halls. Let’s work together to keep our community safe.”
Anyone interested in learning more about APP can contact them on their Facebook page or by mail at: P.O. Box 9302, Fort Mohave, Arizona 86427.
Most common apps used to solicit minors according to nspcc.org: