TULSA, Okla. — The Tulsa County Sheriff's Office's child predator unit said it sees three times the amount of child predator cases than usual.
Lead detective Jason Weis told 2 Works for You one of the reasons he believes the cases are going up is because more children and adults are at home and online due to COVID 19.
With social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok, the entire world is now at your fingertips, making it a perfect playground for child predators.
“More people are staying home, and more people are staying connected to their device, and I think that is just opening Pandora’s box, unfortunately," Weis said.
With the constant upgrades and new features of these platforms, Weis said it could be harder to catch a predator.
"And now Instagram and TikTok and Facebook and have this encrypted feature. It’s called banished mode on Facebook messenger where you send a message, and you can actually have it disappear within two to three to 30 seconds,” Weis said. "That is extremely hard to track, and predators are utilizing that technology just as much as kids are."
For his role, Weis said the target age predators are targeting is 14. Most of the initial contact starts online through a direct message, and it slowly escalates from there.
“The number one tactic that predators are going to use to gain access to a kid is grooming, and it’s usually through love and affirmation and making that child feel important," Weis said. “At the same time they are doing that, they are putting in little sexual innuendos.”
To catch these predators, Weis has multiple social media platforms set up posing as young girls.
"I just wait for them to come to me," he said. "I never initiate contact with any of these guys. They always find me."
Right now, Weis said he probably receives anywhere from one to 15 friend requests a day. That's a huge jump from last year when he would receive one to two a day. Because of the high number, he said it's unclear currently how many of those friend requests turn into actual investigations or arrests.
You may be asking yourself, "How on Earth do I protect my child from becoming a victim?"
Weis said the best thing to do is not to allow your child to have a social media account until they are at least 13 years of age.
He also said it is important to have those hard conversations with your children about what they could see and who might reach out to them online. Weis said for every bad guy that they put away, they save on average of 20 to 40 kids from becoming a victim of a child predator.
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