TULSA, Okla. — Acting U.S. Attorney Clint Johnson announced 33 people across 11 counties in the Northern District of Oklahoma are facing federal charges in a child pornography investigation.
Last December, the U.S. Attorney's office launched Operation Clean Sweep, aimed to protect children targeted by internet crimes.
The four-month investigation collaborated with several law enforcement agencies including:
- U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations
- Cherokee Nation Marshal Service
- Tulsa Police Department
- Rogers County Sheriff’s Office
Johnson said 12 of the 33 people charged already pleaded guilty in federal court. He said Operation Clean Sweep identified and rescued 12 child victims so far.
The U.S. Attorney's office said the COVID-19 lockdowns may have played a big role in the increased number of these child exploitation crimes.
“We had children that were now at home schooling," Johnson said. "We had adults that were now teleworking."
The COVID-19 shutdown didn't just keep people at home. It also kept kids and adults on screens for longer hours, exposing many children to online predators.
“Before, you may have this activity occurring after school and after work, but now, with everybody being home with the pandemic, it was occurring at all different times... noon, 10 o'clock,” Johnson said.
Johnson said the findings of the undercover investigation are a good reminder for parents to monitor the interactions their kids are having online.
"Parents have to be vigilant," he said. "They're the first line of defense."
Johnson and Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Nassar said the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children received 22 million CyberTipline reports in 2020. They said most of those are reported by social media sites, but warn parents to be proactive in preventing predatory activity in the first place.
"Parents need to be able to monitor what communications their children are having," Nassar said.
A detective with the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office child predator unit told 2 News parents should not allow their children to have social media accounts until they are 13 years old. If this is not possible for parents, Nassar suggests keeping track of their log-in info so parents are not locked out of their online activity.
Nassar also warns parents to have those difficult conversations with their children about the threats the internet and social media can pose.
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