SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) — Officials from the Utah Internet Crimes against Children Task Force said they have been seeing alarming growth in the number of adults buying nude photos from children online.
They recently arrested a Salt Lake City man, Jesse Neal Knight, who propositioned more than 200 girls to send him naked photos.
Over three years, Knight admitted to spending more than $30,000 on photos of teen girls. In some cases, he even got the girls to send nude photos of their infant and toddler family members.
The commander of the task force, Alan White, said unfortunately this case is not unusual. Trends have showed this is happening more and more frequently.
Criminals are meeting children online and on social media, he said, using apps like Snapchat, and messaging apps like Kik.
Predators create multiple profiles, posing as different men and women. White said, in most cases it doesn't take a lot of grooming to get children to send naked pictures. Then those photos get shared.
"They trade with like-minded individuals, so they're trading new content – and that's why they are getting these children to take that picture of themselves,” said White. "They'll request specific ages. They may even target a specific hair color or make up."
He said in this case some of the photos were sold for $15-$20, but there were instances of one girl being paid upwards of $5,000 over a period of time. The children were paid online, though apps like Cash App or Venmo.
White said Knight could have solicited others they don’t yet know about under different profiles. If you think your child may have been targeted, contact police.
White said as this trend grows, it’s important to set restrictions and boundaries for children, as they learn and navigate the digital world.
The education specialist with the ICAC task force, Michelle Busch-Upwall, said the first thing parents need to understand is that all children, tweens, and teens are vulnerable.
"It's not a certain gender, it's not a certain race, it's not a certain socioeconomic status. It's anyone and everyone,” she said.
She said it's not so much if, but when your child will be targeted.
"The national statistic is one in five kids is sexually solicited online. So that's a high stat,” Busche-Upwall said.
The most important thing you can do to protect your child, is to have open communication.
"A lot of parents want to just put them in a box or a bubble and not let them have anything, but that isn't the way to do it,” said Busch-Upwall.
She suggested downloading the apps your children have, and understanding how they work. She said there are also plenty of software and apps – even phone carriers have ways to monitor your children online.
"So often I hear parents say, 'You know, I don't want to break into their world,’ but we need to,” Busche-Upwall said.
She said conversations about internet predators need to start early.
"Just to give you an idea of when to start, we get tips on games such as Roblox, which is a preschool game. So, we need to have these conversations starting young, and when they are picking up devices,” she said.
Predators can also lead teens into thinking they are in a relationship, and that sending nude pictures is a part of that. The grooming process includes flattery, gaining trust, and sharing the same interests.
Busch-Upwall said it's key for children to feel safe to talk to their parents, without fear of being punished.
"We know that these phones are their lifelines,” she said. “If we're threatening taking them away, are our kids going to tell us anything? No."
She said children should be taught not to talk to people they don't know online, which can be hard for teens who make friends online.
"Having a parent monitoring that is what's going to help that as well,” Busche-Upwall said.