Savvy predators

Children drawn into sex rings through use of technology

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By Mindy Ragan Wood, Staff Writer – A Canadian County sheriff’s deputy is warning children about the dangers of sexual predators as a generation of youth are more vulnerable than ever before through technology.

Captain Adam Flowers spoke to eighth grade middle school students in Yukon last week about the ways predators try to lure them into clandestine meetings.

Flowers addressed the young audience using a hypothetical situation.

“I asked a female student, ‘If you saw me in the mall and I said, ‘hey here’s this bathing suit, this two-piece bikini. Put this on and let me see you in it.’ What would you do? She said she would scream and run away from me. I asked them, then why would you put that image on Instagram for millions of people to see?’ No one could answer that question,” he said.

Flowers and his team at the sheriff’s office are part of the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task force and regularly speak to youth and parents.

Flowers uses examples to help students see a different perspective on actions that may view as harmless. He hopes it makes them think.

“When you take the human element out of it, the face-to-face out of it then the red flags go out the window,” he said.

Approximately 95 percent of all children between ages 12 to 17 are online with three out of four using cell phones, tablets, and computers. One in five U.S. teenagers report they have received unwanted sexual solicitation online. One study showed that 100 percent of teen victims willingly met their predator.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported there are more than 800,000 registered sex offenders in the U. S., though that number includes other forms of sex crimes.

In Canadian County, investigators have arrested 32 suspected predators and have worked 55 sex crime cases since January.

In the thick of that battle, Flowers and his team are doing what they can. ICAC investigations lead to frequent arrests, including 26-year-old Isaiah Taylor who was arrested last week for possessing violent child pornography videos and images on his computer in Yukon.

Catching them is sometimes easier than one might think. Whistleblowers against child predators come from everywhere as a fragmented world seems to agree on one thing: children should be safe. Flowers said he and his team work with investigators all over the world.

“They really do care,” he said. “We work hand-in-hand with Canada. We’ve worked with Scotland Yard, they’re a really big resource…France, Germany, Italy. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) is a huge one.”

NCMEC receives tips regarding child predators and forwards the tip to law enforcement agencies, something that Flowers sees often. Robert Painter was charged in 2016 after Flowers discovered Painter was grooming children in youth groups for sexual contact. That investigation started with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

“NCMEC is really a liaison between federal and local law enforcement. Robert Painter was turned over to us because Drop Box audited his account and found contraband images and then sent that to NMEC. They sent it to OSBI and OSBI sent it to us because we’re part of their task force. Google, Apple, Drop Box and other companies will make referrals to NCMEC immediately. It sounds like a process that should take weeks, but it took three days. We had it in our hands and made an arrest on day four. That’s pretty impressive considering Drop Box is in California, NCMEC is in Washington D.C. and going from corporate, to federal, to state, and local…it was a pretty quick turnaround,” Flowers said.

“It’s a successful model if people use it.”

The international market for children is also something that Flowers sees. People who want children for sex often use an online service, or online magazines which shows videos of nude children. LS Magazine and BD Company send the videos to clients and the clients make an offer, from thousands to millions of dollars.

The children come from all over the world, but Flowers said most of them come from Southeast Asia, Russia, the Ukraine, and the Czech Republic. Getting an American teen or child out of the country is difficult and therefore more valuable to predators.

“It’s harder to get an American 12-year-old out of the country, so you’re talking probably millions of dollars,” he speculated.

Impoverished countries are easy prey for predators who promise parents their child will be a model, not a sex toy for a monster.

“They believe they’ll be better off selling their child to these people. They think they’ll have food, warmth, clothing, a better life. They have no idea what they’ve done,” Flowers said.
Developed countries with strong law enforcement presence do not see as many of their children being carted off by duped parents. Countries like Canada, Britain, Germany, France, and Italy have a strong law enforcement presence and resources and far less poverty.

For the U.S. and other first-world countries, the predators are more sophisticated using technology to reach the victim and the leverage of manipulation and control tactics to keep them silent.

Flowers recalled the case of Mike Goddard, a Yukon man who posed as a 14-year-old girl to high school boys three years ago.

“Goddard got into relationships with these boys, posing as a 14-year-old girl (online) and he raped a couple of them because he exploited them with sexting videos and pictures he talked them out of. Then, in order to protect their identity and keep from it getting out, they would agree to have sex with him. They weren’t gay, but they would do anything they could to protect their identity,” he said.

Those cases keep Flowers going to schools, community forum meetings, and keep him doing child sex stings. He urges parents to be educated about the danger that a child faces daily with technology.

“You wouldn’t give your kid the keys to a car without making sure they are trained how to operate the vehicle. I wasn’t given keys to a car without knowing how dangerous it is, but that’s what parents are doing to their kids with technology….the predators are so smart, they’re getting the kids to come to them,” he said.

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