Sexual predators use any means necessary

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 10, 2010

Sexting is one of the “many way children can become victims of child sex crimes.

Predators who commit sex crimes against children use parents’ trust of their children to their advantage.

“It’s easy,” said Ted Motley, chief investigator for the Covington County Sheriff’s office. “All it takes is a cell phone, a computer, a little spare time and the want-to.”

Since January, his department has received an average of three reports of child sex abuse per week. It’s Motley’s responsibility to investigate child sex crimes.

Motley said 85 percent of the reported cases are presented to the grand jury to determine if there is enough evidence to send the case to trial. Victims’ ages range from infant up, and during the last five years, the number of cases has increased “exponentially” for a number of reasons, Motley said.

“Mainly because I think people are more open to talking about it now,” he said. “Society has changed on many levels. It used to be it was a taboo subject and you had cohesive family units. Not anymore.”

When parents divorce, there is an opportunity to bring someone new into the picture, and that’s where a lot of (child sex abuse cases) occur.

Motley explained that child sex crimes are like a pie – there are many ingredients and different slices that make up what a ‘child sex crime’ is.

“In thinking of it as a pie, you have a slice of cases of a parent or step-parent abusing the child; then you have child-on-child – say a 15-year-old to an 8-year-old; or then you have cases of statutory rape where say a 20-year-old is having sex with a 15-year-old; and then you have sexual perverts, the kind of people that prey on children.”

How it happens

“It can happen to anyone you know. And it can be done by anyone you know, from the local criminal to the neighborhood preacher,” Motley said.  “I guess you could say if there’s a will, there’s a way. We know what the Internet can do, and so do predators.”

Motley said the willingness to provide personal, detailed information on social media sites and communications through text messages and instant messaging make it easy for potential predators to target children.

“Sexting,” which is sending sexually explicit messages via text messaging, is also a “huge” problem in the county, he said.

“These children don’t realize what they’re doing,” he said. “They think it’s all fun and games.”

Motley said predators also use a parent’s ability to trust their child to their advantage.

“As a parent, you think you can trust your child, and predators bank on that,” he said. “So if your child says, ‘Hey, I’m going to the movies with friends.’ You believe them, but what you don’t know is that a predator could be waiting there for them. Same situation can happen at Wal-Mart or on the Square at night.

“We have to be vigilant parents,” he said.

How cases are reported

There are two ways to report suspected cases of child sex abuse – a call to the state Department of Human Resources; or a call to the nearest local law enforcement agency.

Cathy Leverington, director of the county DHR office, said her office employs eight social workers, two of whom have as their primary responsibility case assessments for suspected abuse cases.

“If someone is concerned about a child, we want to hear from them,” Leverington said. “They can contact us by phone, in person or write us a letter if that’s what it takes.”

From there, DHR workers contact the family and law enforcement to begin an assessment into the alleged actions.

How to prevent them

“Best advice I can give is be a parent,” Motley said. “Check their Facebook page, their Internet history, their cell phones. Check up on them. Make sure they’re where they say they’re going to be.

“This is a world that parents don’t understand,” he said. “Talk to your child and be careful about who has access to your child.”

To report a suspected child sex crime or child abuse, contact the Covington County Department of Human Resources at 334-222-7900, the CCSO at 334-428-2640, or the nearest law enforcement agency.

There are 98 registered sex offenders in Covington County, many of whom committed crimes against children. To read a list, click here.